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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Top 10 Films Set in Cinemas

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

I originally published this post on the 17 May 2021 when across the UK cinemas started re-opening after covid lockown. And boy, had I missed going to the cinema! Then, in July 2022 whilst attending the Cinema Rediscovered film festival in Bristol I watched another cinema-set film that has leapt into my Top Ten. Therefore revisiting, and updating the May 2021 blog which originally only included films available to stream in UK.

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. (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). (Available 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 knowing reference to The Purple Rose of Cairo (see # 4). (Currently not available to stream)

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. (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. (On various streaming services)

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. (On various 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. (On various 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. Goodbye, Dragon Inn, 2003, Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan

In Taipei, a movie theater is closing, but not before one final film is shown -- "Dragon Inn," a 1967 actioner and the source of nostalgia for the moviegoers and employees in the old, decrepit and possibly haunted building. A poignant and hypnotic love letter to a cinema's final bow.

(Currently not available to stream)

10. One Second, 2020, Zhang Yimou, China [new entry]

A man escapes from a farm-prison during the Cultural Revolution to go in search of cinema showing a specific propaganda newsreel. A love letter to the power of film and the communual pull of cinemagoing.

(Coming exclusively to MUBI later this year)

Have a read of the original post for more films set in cinemas. I did also watch Save the Cinema (2022, Sara Sugarman) last month, and although pleasant enough didn't make my top 10. It is currently available on Sky if you fancy watching a British movie about saving a cinema in Wales from the bulldozers. But if you want to watch a film about a Welsh town coming together to save its cinema, then I'd suggest the superior Welsh language Coming up Roses (1986, Stephen Bayly) currently available to watch on YouTube.


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