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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Top 10 Films Set in Cinemas

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Today is the 17 May 2021, and across the UK cinemas are re-opening. And boy, have I missed going to the cinema! Over the past year I have gotten my cinema fix via watching films set in cinemas.

Here’s a list of my Top 10 Films set in cinemas.

1. Cinema Paradiso, 1988, Giuseppe Tornatore, Italy

Note: Watch the original release, not the Director’s Cut. Set in post-WW2 Italy, for young Salvatore, his local cinema is a place of safety and wonder, and the projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), a father of sorts. Told in flashback as Salvatore, now a film director, travels back home for Alfredo’s funeral. (To rent on various streaming services)

2. The Smallest Show in Earth, 1957, Basil Dearden, UK Matt and Jean Spenser (Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna) unexpectedly inherit a cinema. They arrive to discover that it is a failing ancient fleapit, with an equally ancient staff (Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford and Bernard Miles). (To rent on Amazon)

3. The Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema, 1990, Poland

There’s chaos at the Liberty Cinema when the actors on screen go on strike, refusing to continue with the film, deliver their lines and start talking to the audience. There’s even a reference to The Purple Rose of Cairo (see # 4). (Currently not streaming in UK)

4. The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985, Woody Allen, US

Set in Depression-era America, waitress Cecilia (Mia Farrow) escapes the mundanity of her work and marriage at the Cinema. She is particularly fond of "The Purple Rose of Cairo & its leading man Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). And then, one day, Tom steps out of the screen and into her life. (To rent on various streaming services)

5. Sherlock jr, 1924, Buster Keaton, US

Framed for a robbery, a projectionist (Buster Keaton), who really wants to be a detective does some amateur sleuthing, and gets himself into even more of a pickle. (Available on various streaming platforms)

6. Matinee, 1993, Joe Dante, US

Set in early 1960s America where there is concern over the escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but for a group of teens a trip to the cinema is more pressing particularly when a movie producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) known for his gimmick-filled horror films is in town. Woolsey and the film being shown, Mant, inspired by William Castle and his films. (To rent on streaming services)

7. The Tingler, 1959, William Castle, US

A scientist (Vincent Price) discovers a parasite in human beings, called a "tingler", which feeds on fear. He gets a chance to experiment when he meets Ollie and Martha Higgins, who own and operate a movie theatre that shows only silent films. (To rent on streaming services)

8. Those Awful Hats, 1909, D W Griffiths, US A 3 minute short comedy starring Mack Sennett as the man in the check suit who gets rather irate at the women in the audience in their large hats.

9. Demons, 1985, Lamberto Bava, Italy

At a screening of a mysterious film at a Berlin cinema, a curse is accidently triggered and the audience soon find themselves turning into or on the run from zombie-fied demons. (To rent on streaming services)

10. The Last Showing, 2014, Phil Hawkins, UK

An unhinged projectionist (Robert Englund) traps a couple in his UK multiplex cinema, terrorises them whilst filming them for his horror film. (To rent on streaming services)

Although not currently streaming in the UK, also highly recommend:

  1. Goodbye, Dragon Inn, 2003, Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan

  2. Coming Up Roses, 1986, Stephen Bayly, Wales

  3. The Film Critic, 2013, Hernán Gerschuny, Argentina/Chile

  4. A Useful Life, 2010, Uruguay

  5. The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973, Victor Erice, Italy

Happy home viewing until we can all get back into the cinemas.

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