metro theatre toronto

The 5 worst movie theatres in Toronto

As a big fan of movies and a frequenter of many of Toronto's film festivals, I've spent a significant amount of time sitting in movie theatres around the city. I've sat in nearly all of 'em which is why I'm designating myself an expert on the subject of the best and worst places to watch a film in Toronto. We've previously covered some of the top cinemas here, but for those who want to avoid the pitfalls of bad movie going experiences - even if it's avoiding a specific theatre during a certain time or day of the week - this list might help.

Here's my list of the worst places to watch a film in Toronto in descending order.

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Cineplex Yonge & Dundas and Scotiabank Theatre (weekends only)
I am not a movie theatre snob. I don't believe that only indie theatres are worth supporting. I too enjoy a big screen and a blockbuster title. Most days I have no issues with the Cineplex Yonge & Dundas and the Scotiabank Theatre but I avoid them like the plague during weekends. These two are the monsters in the downtown core and attract crowds like nobody's business. I'm willing to get to a theatre early to secure a choice spot during TIFF, but if I'm going to catch the latest action movie or trashy comedy I can't be bothered getting there half an hour before start time to make sure I can sit beside my date.
TIP: Avoid opening weekend and catch new releases Monday-Thursday, preferably a matinee.

The Varsity, Cinema #8
The Varsity is a great choice when you want to see a new release that probably won't be a blockbuster, but they still screen bigger titles at their largest theatre, Cinema 8, and this is the theatre to avoid. Despite its largess, the sight lines aren't great. It doesn't have enough of an incline for the amount of seats present and unless you sit toward the end of an aisle, you'll likely have to spend your screening tilting your head to get an unobstructed view. Being the largest and most popular theatre at the Varsity, it also shows its age. The upholstery is worn, the seat cushions are springy and some of the arm rests wobble or have fallen off entirely. It also has a slightly damp smell in the air (I can't quite figure that one out).
TIP: Choose a smaller theatre (with stadium seating!) at the Varsity or spring for the VIP for maximum comfort.

TIFF Bell Lightbox (Cinema 5) and the Al Green Theatre
It feels almost blasphemous to speak out against the mighty Lightbox, which is really a fantastic facility to see a film. UNLESS you are one of the unlucky few who sees a movie in the dreaded Cinema 5. Up on the third floor of the Lightbox, Cinema 5 sits nearly hidden and is mainly used for industry screenings. But on occasion they'll relegate smaller titles to its screen. The issue here is the seat construction. As a short gal, I'm a huge fan of stadium seating but in Cinema 5 you actually feel like you're at a stadium. The seats are rigged together much like sitting in the bleachers and every movement made by your neighbours is felt. They're also quite loud, with an aluminum quality that ensures every light step ends up being a stomp and every single person in the theatre will be disturbed if someone has to exit mid-film for a bathroom break. The Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal JCC is very similar in its seat construction, though larger, which almost makes it worse.
TIP: Avoid. Odds are it won't be difficult as I've seen dozens of films at the Lightbox and have only suffered through Cinema 5 twice and the Al Green Theatre tends to only be used by the JCC.

Metro Theatre
Allow me to make this clear: my issue with the Metro Theatre has nothing to do with the films they screen. My issue is with the theatre's overall condition. I love it when older theatres are operational, but only if they're maintained in such a manner that their age doesn't show. The Metro Theatre has one of the worst theatre interiors I've ever seen. There are parts of it that are literally falling apart. The seats aren't upholstered in fabric but vinyl and they get extremely hot after extended sitting. And while I understand that women don't make up the majority of the audience at most screenings, they still need to do something about the bathroom situation. Last time I was there I couldn't locate any kind of lock on the door and had to make an arrangement with a stranger to switch off on holding the door closed for each other.
TIP: Avoid. At the very least go to the bathroom at home first.

ROM Theatre
This is without a doubt my least favorite place to watch a movie in Toronto. And the reason it bested the Metro Theatre for the #1 spot is that I expect more from the ROM. To be fair, the ROM Theatre is mainly used to screen films for visiting students but it's also a venue for a few film festivals (Hot Docs, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, et. al) so it isn't outside the realm of possibility that you may find yourself there for a screening. What you'll find is that it has unbearably awful sight lines. There are very few places you can position yourself in the theatre where you won't be staring directly into the back of the head of the person in front of you. Do I sound like a bitter short person? Well it won't be much better for you tall folk either as it has zero leg room. Unless you're on an aisle you will have a hard time folding yourself into your designated area. It also has poor sound quality, which doesn't help when subways pass by every few minutes. Unlike at the newly refurbished Bloor Cinema, you can hear every single one.
TIP: Avoid at all costs. I don't even bother unless I have no other option.

What did we miss? Where do you avoid watching films in Toronto?

Writing by Katharine MacNevin


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