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The 5 worst movie theatres in Toronto

Posted by Katharine MacNevin / August 14, 2013

metro theatre torontoAs 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



Deric / August 14, 2013 at 08:39 am
While I tend to agree with your comments - I think you need to think about how you're rating these theatres, and for who.

The crowds are insane at Yonge and Dundas, but it is in a hot spot, that lets you catch a movie while being in the centre of our downtown core (great for tourists), and the theatres are BIG.

Scotiabank theatre (again, completely agree with the crowds), is in the heart of restaurant row, and gives you so many options when you want to do 'dinner and movie'.
QED / August 14, 2013 at 09:05 am
Ok, fair enough on the comments but it should be pointed out that all of these theatres are in the downtown core, something that many cities with flagging downtowns would absolutely kill for. It's a nice problem to have.
KRB / August 14, 2013 at 09:10 am
At the Metro, I would prefer easily cleaned vinyl, to be honest. But not completely broken would be nice, we went for the Underground Peep Show and 2 of the 7 seats our group had were unusable.
Your Joking / August 14, 2013 at 09:29 am
The old school screen 8 at the Varsity is one of the city's gems. The last of the great pre-stadium monstrosities. It harkens back to the days of the Uptown, the Hyland and the Eglinton. I purposely pick films that are playing there. Many a great memory and experience.
Shan / August 14, 2013 at 09:55 am
Your comments about Scotia & YD Square seem a little outdated considering that IMAX and AVX (which screen most blockbusters) are reserved seating which means you don't have to come early for movies anymore.

Buy your tickets online or via mobile and head to the theatre with 15 minutes to spare for snacks and you'll still get a great seat and see your blockbuster without waiting in a massive queue.
Stephanie / August 14, 2013 at 09:59 am
I disagree about the sight lines in screen 8 at the Varsity, I've never had a problem with that. The damp smell though? That's the aged HVAC system. I saw Star Trek on a hot summer day and nearly passed out because the A/C couldn't sufficiently cool the packed theatre.
George / August 14, 2013 at 10:04 am
I, personally, hate the Bloor about no sight lines in so many of the rows and seats. Who the heck renovated it - Stevie Wonder???
afk / August 14, 2013 at 10:10 am
Tip: Don't be a midget.
Zissou / August 14, 2013 at 10:10 am
Buddy, you don't know bad theatres. Try:

- The shoe-boxes at the Carlton and Canada Square (memories of the old Eaton Centre cinemas)
- Silver City Yonge & Eglinton for overcrowding/horrible audiences
- Empress Walk for percentage of bored teens checking their phones throughout movies
- Yorkdale for that ghetto ambience
- Colossus for being an all-out eye sore
- Anything Rainbow cinemas for a reminder of why mall multiplexes sucked the bag back in the day.
- Mt. Pleasant - doesn't even pretend to screen films in surround stereo
Shame / August 14, 2013 at 10:15 am
The bathrooms at the Metro aren't THAT bad... :/
Adam / August 14, 2013 at 10:23 am
Cinema 5 at the lightbox is definately pretty uncomfortable. If i didn't *really* want to see the film, it would make me think twice about going.
Alison replying to a comment from Your Joking / August 14, 2013 at 10:26 am
I agree with you (and not the writer). Varsity 8 is my favourite theatre in the city. I have seen so many great films there. Sure there isn't as much as an incline as in newer cinemas (or elsewhere in the Varsity), but it doesn't matter. I have never had a problem seeing there, and unlike in stadium seating theatres, this feels more like a cinema.
pho replying to a comment from Zissou / August 14, 2013 at 10:33 am
"- Yorkdale for that ghetto ambience"

Care to elaborate? Yeah we all know the black folk can get loud at the movies, but why hide behind euphemisms?
cathy / August 14, 2013 at 10:37 am
I've been disappointed in the movie times since Cineplex took over the AMC at Yonge/Dundas. I used to be able to go to a movie at 5:30/5:45 after work, now the movies seem to be 4ish, then 7ish. I'm not hanging around for 2 hours after work to see a movie (I know it's meant for daters, but other people like to see movies, too) so I don't go as much anymore.

Scotiabank always seems damp and sticky to me.
Clarence / August 14, 2013 at 10:37 am
I don't get it; why would prissy hipsters be frequenting the Metro? I'm quite sure that that Metro crowd does not go for bacon and pulled pork ice cream cones on Ossington. Each to their own.
Mar / August 14, 2013 at 10:45 am
Yonge and Dundas????? They have the most comfortable and the screen is perfect I can't understand how what is probably the best movie theater made the top of the list. I would say rainbow market square or Carleton because they have small screens and not impressive seats. But then they have great movies at great prices. I'm not sure why this list was necessary sat there aren't any bad movie theaters in Toronto and this list of decent movie theaters called 'the worst' is proof
Bev / August 14, 2013 at 10:46 am
Agreed, but it also sucks for those of us downtownies who ironically end up with limited options for comfortable filmgoing if it's a holiday weekend, a Tuesday (for claustrophobes who don't want to squeeze in to Rainbow's cheap night) and/or who are too poor for the TIFF or can't justify blowing $6 on transit just to get uptown. For that price, I'd spring for VIP seats at the Varsity, or more likely, a stack of 5 classics at Queen Video.
Mel Tipsy / August 14, 2013 at 10:48 am
An entire article of entitled whining, at BlogTO, big surprise.
Serb / August 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

Hell no.

I agree with the viewing angles and all, even though that's not the worst aspect of that theatre - the seats uncomfortable as all hell are.

I am a tall guy and I can barely make it through a movie in there without some serious "lower back" pain...
Soren / August 14, 2013 at 11:07 am
Love the Lightbox, but the smaller theatre upstairs (the one where they were screening The Act of Killing) has the most insanely uncomfortable seats I've ever sat on. Two and a half hours of ass torture. I'd never go back.
Tommy replying to a comment from Zissou / August 14, 2013 at 11:10 am
Yorkdale is the only theater I've ever been to where I had to pull an opposite-George mid-movie freakout at some moron repeatedly kicking my seat. When did Yorkdale become such a hole?!
ROB / August 14, 2013 at 11:11 am
It's not entitled whining to want to see a film in comfort and peace.

The absolute worst is The Isabel Bader theatre. An excruciating experience like no other. Even the Carlton,Metro and Canada Square are better. To start, the leg room at the Bader theatre is non existent. Try watching a 2hr film if your over 5"8,your legs will be cramped and/or numb by the end. The seats are a nightmare(no exaggeration)small,musky smelling,noisy as hell, very uncomfortable. The sightlines toward the back are total crap and you'll get a neck cramp in order to view the screen from between heads in front. I hope TIFF retires this place as a venue.
Cam / August 14, 2013 at 11:12 am

lar•gess or lar•gesse (lɑrˈdʒɛs, ˈlɑr dʒɪs)

1. generous bestowal of gifts.
2. the gift or gifts, as of money, so bestowed.
3. Obs. generosity; liberality.
NAW / August 14, 2013 at 11:34 am
I agree that Y&D is the worst place to see a movie in the city. If you want someone kicking the back of your seat and people constantly talking during the movie or checking their phones this is the place to go.
However, missing from this list is Projection Booth. You seem to only have gone to theatres in the downtown core. Ever see a movie here? The seats are uncomfortable and the lobby which double as a movie rental spot is completely awkward. Not to mention the programming is kinda... Sucky. Unless it's a lecture series are film festival.
To the commenter above, actually the sight lines are fine at the Bloor now that they've renovated since they raised the screen, which makes sitting on the balcony worth it now.
Borte / August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am
Alanis Morissette would still go down in any of these aforementioned theaters.
Sean / August 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm
I've boycotted Yorkdale for the past 6 years because of all the TALKING and TALKING on cellphones. I had warned management four times and told them I would stop going there if the TALKING continued. Sadly it did.

Got the shrug then was told there were othere theatres to go if I wish. I did. Told family and friends, many of whom experienced the TALKING out loud at Yorkdale and have gone to better managed theatres. Their loss, not ours.
Mel Tipsy replying to a comment from Sean / August 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm
I'm sure they missed you, a boycott of one. lol.

I couldn't resist but do agree with you as the cellphone disease is everywhere and shows no sign of letting up. I get the boycott as I have people think I'm nuts for not going back to a business after bad experiences. Most people haven't the integrity to stick to their guns and just go again and again and again and get screwed every time.

The sad part about your experience is that the people themselves and society as a whole no longer give a shit about anyone but themselves.
tecky / August 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm
Definitely agree with the list. Varsity 8 I would avoid like the plague, one time I had to (i had to.) leave a TIFF screening and getting past the 4 people to the aisle was literally crawling over them. It's cramped and awful. I don't go to the varsity ever because of that theatre. Cinema 5 at tiff, yeah the seats are very uncomfortable, but at least it sounds and looks very very good. Yonge and Dundas has nice feeling cinemas, but crappy sound, crappy design, and booth lights that never turn off. Also TIFF isn't back at yonge and dundas this year and it's for good reason. I will miss comfortable seats in a sea of ass displeasure that are Toronto cinemas though.
Warren / August 14, 2013 at 01:37 pm
Carlton Cinema, the last remnant of the Cineplex micro cinemas. Why did they save this turkey? Condo Theatre rooms have bigger screens
Alex / August 14, 2013 at 01:48 pm
I agree that Yonge Dundas sucks to see a blockbuster on a weekend because of the crowds. If I go we always plan to get there at least 20 minutes early to grab a seat. I've never had an issue with people using their phones or talking during a movie though, I can only think of one or two occasions I've ever seen a phone out during a movie and the person always put it away very quickly too.
Home / August 14, 2013 at 03:09 pm
Several years ago I had enough with the public theatre experience in Toronto. I bought a 60" plasma and a blu ray player. That's it. No more people kicking the back of my seat, checking their phones, old people describing the movie to each other out loud while they're watching it, etc. My buttered popcorn costs about $0.25 per serving and that even includes a healthy dose of REAL melted butter and seasalt. Mmmmm.... now get the f(&k out of my living room a-holes!
Todd / August 14, 2013 at 03:37 pm
Varsity's my favourite in the core.

And I'm glad most of you hate it. Means more room for me.
E replying to a comment from Cam / August 14, 2013 at 03:53 pm
Obviously a typo, I'm sure the writer meant 'largeness'. You must be fun at parties.
KRB replying to a comment from Shame / August 14, 2013 at 04:34 pm
did you check out the lady's room? it's wedged into a corner, and barely usable. i know it probably doesn't see a ton of traffic during normal days, but it's pretty rough.
Sarah Thomson replying to a comment from KRB / August 14, 2013 at 04:59 pm
But it IS private for having sex. I love it.
ginnee / August 14, 2013 at 05:43 pm
Let's talk about the Bloor. When Hot Docs took it over, they promised 30% of the screenings would be movies like the Bloor used to run when the Bordonaros owned it. I check the listings and if there's one fictional film a month, that's it. Not worth a hefty membership fees, especially when CBC newsworld is so documentary-heavy for FREE and TVO also shows a number of documentaries!
ashlee / August 14, 2013 at 08:08 pm
You forgot The Kingsway Theatre at Bloor and Islington! Not only are the theaters cold and the environment uncomfortable? THE OWNER IS A DICK!!! I have witnessed him embarrass his employees in front of customers AND the customers themselves.
cami / August 14, 2013 at 08:56 pm
Agree with Silvercity at Yonge & Eg...awful screen, sound, everything!
Steven / August 15, 2013 at 07:01 am
Cineplex at Yonge & Eglinton (Canada Square) is real bad too. A tad cheaper but put up with 35c heat in the winter and half way through the film (in the winter) the A/C turns on and you can see your breath!

Silvercity at Yonge & Eglinton is bad but others here did a great job expressing the worst of the place.

Yorkdale is not the place to enjoy a movie either. Audiences don't talk in the theatres, they shout.
Steven / August 15, 2013 at 07:03 am
Does anybody know what they do when we return the 3D glasses? Do they wash them and wrap them up?

Afraid of bed bugs, lice and body grease... Ewww.
Maurey / August 15, 2013 at 08:28 am
Varsity VIP is the WORST! Sure, the seats are huge with your own sidetable-type thingy but the experience sucks. Nothing takes you out of a story like a puppet shadow on the screen when someone in the back stands up and blocks the projector. I also hate the fact that you are so close to the screen that you can see the screen' fabric weave. And you pay extra for this crap! The worst.
D large / August 15, 2013 at 04:38 pm
fuk off
Sean / August 15, 2013 at 06:07 pm
For mainstream movies, Y&D might be a bit much to take... but for a big multiplex to show the extremely diverse range of foreign language movies gives it some bonus points in my books.
Gene replying to a comment from D large / August 15, 2013 at 06:19 pm
Make me.
noah / August 18, 2013 at 08:29 pm
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East Ender / August 18, 2013 at 11:04 pm
I really wanted Projection Booth to be awesome but sadly it isn't. Their programming and marketing is always flip-flopping (Projection Booth, Big Picture Cinemas, now maybe something else since the sign is being repainted). Seems like the manager has no solid business sense. Decor is dingy and grimey. Good for festivals with super low budgets and could be a great place for b-movies and shlock but I don't think the gentrification of Leslieville/Riverdale wants these types of films as they're never busy. Also, they can only play BluRay, which is a travesty.
Joe / August 10, 2014 at 06:53 pm
Scotia or amc downtown? Especially when talking about the biggest blockbusters you also like to see. Only agree of its a last minute decision, but if it's something you plan on seeing avx or imax has reserved seating. I always get my tickets a day or 2 ahead and get great seats either buy mobile, online or going to the Theater and yonge dundas either room your in, had the best seats regardless. You should put cineplex Queensway or Yorkdale on a Friday night on a weekend. Any room you go in both during those times will be full of teenagers who can't shut up during a movie. The best was at Yorkdale where this kid was having an orgasm during the show maybe sanitation should be included too.
TryMe / August 10, 2014 at 09:45 pm
Am I the only one who has a problem with Varsity VIP? It's so expensive and the screens are super small. Why pay more for a smaller screen? Oh but there's a fancy coffee shop and you can get them to deliver your coffee to your seat. Whatever. I want a cheaper ticket with a bigger screen, thanks.
Karen replying to a comment from Cam / August 10, 2014 at 10:34 pm
Thank you. That irritated me too.
Grumble / August 10, 2014 at 11:28 pm
I must echo an early comment. Some cities, like Ottawa, don't even HAVE multiplexes downtown anymore, so Toronto should be thankful that there are actually crowds of people willing to see a movie!

Also, this post makes not a single mention of projection or audio quality, which should really be evaluated over vinyl seating...
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