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Best of Toronto

The Best Place to Watch a Film in Toronto

Posted by Blake Williams / February 15, 2012

film torontoThe best places to watch a film in Toronto prove that this city's rep cinema landscape is one of the best in North America and has been actively evolving for decades. Long littered with single-screen art houses — almost every neighbourhood has a nearby venue for non-commercial cinema — the last few years have seen a surge in interest and community thanks to the rise of a certain downtown film festival headquarters. Whether living in the East or the West, midtown or down near the water, Toronto cinephiles with insatiable appetites for classic, foreign, and challenging cinema are never likely to go hungry.

Since this list is limited to nine, here's a special shout out to places that are still part of what makes Toronto such a great movie town: Camera Bar, NFB Mediatheque, The Regent, Reg Hartt's Cineforum, Trash Palace, and Cinecycle.

Here, then, is the list of the best places to watch a movie in Toronto.

TIFF Bell LightboxTIFF LightboxThe first 18 months in the life of the TIFF Bell Lightbox has shown that it has everything we want and need from a movie theatre. And then some. Inarguably the premiere cinematheque in Canada, the Lightbox can also pretty much compete with any single movie venue in the world. Swallowing up James Quandt's Cinematheque Ontario programming might have been enough to make that claim, but that the museum-esque structure also includes room for exhibitions, new art house releases, schlocky cult fare, children's programming, avant-garde screenings, a bookstore that sells the best film books in print, and space for a couple dozen film festivals just about seals the deal.

The BloorBloor CinemaCurrently in transition and renovation under its new owner, Hot Docs, Toronto can only watch and wait in anticipation as the beloved Annex single-screen enters a new phase of its life (to open in mid March 2012). Long a staple of cult, genre, and classic screenings, The Bloor is set to become Toronto's chief venue for documentary work, and will no doubt be the hub for North America's largest documentary film festival. Programmer Robin Smith promises that the charms and flavoring of the old programming won't be wiped out when they reopen; at the very least, the Bloor's popcorn will remain the same.

Toronto UndergroundToronto Underground TheatrePicking up the slack while the Bloor gets reno'ed, the Chinese cinema formerly known as Golden Classics opened its doors in the Spring of 2010 to a near-instant following of cult and genre seekers. Founded by Nigel Agnew and Alex Woodside (formerly of The Bloor) as well as filmmaker Charlie Lawton, The Underground tends to stay true to its name by eliding ostentatious signage and neglecting to update their screening schedule on the home page, often relying on word-of-mouth from their Facebook and twitter accounts to promote upcoming events. They're also the new home of Toronto After Dark, and host some of the most bad-ass double features in the city.

The Revue CinemaRevue Cinema TorontoIn addition to being a second run venue for many of the better independent and foreign films, The Revue — the self-proclaimed "only not-for-profit cinema" in Toronto, located in the heart of Roncesvalles — also hosts some of the more interesting series of any of the rep houses in the city, including The Book Revue, Epicures Revue, and, of course, Silent Sundays (screened from film prints with live piano accompaniment!). New parents hoping to not fall behind on the season's art house hits can also bring their babies to Baby & You screenings, which go as far as providing changing tables, stroller parking, and lowered volume so as not to wake the little ones. A cinema this careful warrants business, and respect.

The Royal CinemaRoyal CinemaA staple on Toronto's independent cinema map since it opened as the Pylon in 1939, it remains a cherished Little Italy landmark, possessing one of the most beautiful art deco theatre interiors in Canada, and the only place to catch monthly screenings of Tommy Wiseau's The Room. Since it was nearly shuttered in 2007, only to be saved by Theatre D Digital (who had previously done the same for The Regent), it only holds evening screenings, and the occasional afternoon event on weekends. This is one of Toronto's premiere venues for local and up-and-coming filmmakers to show their films, and is also the host of a variety of popular film festivals, including the European Union Film Festival and Japanese Movie Week.

Mt. Pleasant TheatreMount Pleasant TheatreFound just south of Eglinton, the Mt. Pleasant Theatre is a single-screen cinema for first and second run pictures. They typically only program one or two films per week, but it certainly brings one back to the good ole days: cash-only ticket sales, 70s wallpaper, and a pungent must in the air make you feel like you've stepped into a completely different era. Some call it charm, others schmaltz, and some just "old" — just don't call it pastiche. Whatever it is, it's genuine, and an experience in today's movie-going ventures that is only getting rarer and rarer.

The FoxFox TheatreOver in the Beach, they've got a little movie house that they like to call The Fox. The Fox wasn't always The Fox, though. When they first opened their doors 98 years ago in 1914, they didn't have any name. No talking in movies, no names for movie houses, I guess. They eventually succumbed and went with The Pastime for a while (if only they knew...), and then changed it to Prince Edward before settling on The Fox, which has held fast for 70 years now. Lately, The Fox is primarily a common second run space, unfortunately screening less and less classic rep cinema over the years (management has recently acquired The Revue, and finds the older stuff that they play over there sufficient, apparently). These guys do have the prettiest concession lobby in the city, though.

The Projection BoothProjection BoothThe newest theatre on the list, The Projection Booth opened in August of 2011 and is a collaboration between Studio Film Group Principals Jonathan Hlibka and Nadia Sandhu, and Grinder Coffee's Euan Mowat. Located in the former home of Gerrard Cinema, The Booth instantly became the king of the East side when it opened its doors, sitting pretty on the cusp of Little India. Their eclectic programming includes Bollywood (new and classic), Kung Fu, camp Sci-Fi, "Fright Nights" of horror, and a healthy mix of foreign, art house, and local independent films. They're still working on their 35mm capabilities, but it's hard to find a reason to not drop in on a regular basis anyway, just to experience their unique brand of inspired curating.

The KingswayThe Kingsway TheatreJust as old as The Royal (they both opened in 1939), The Kingsway can be found deep into Toronto's West end at Bloor and Royal York where they have a sturdy and devoted following. It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride over the last few years for the theatre, though, what with it closing in 2006, only to reopen at the beginning of 2009 as an old-timey first run cinema. The lobby has a vibrant art deco aesthetic with pinks and yellows that match the nostalgic and campy memorabilia items like the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, nice touches amongst the standard multiplex 'look' that seems irredeemably stuck in the 90s. Although there is only one screen, they still manage to squeeze in four different films a week.

Photos (in order) by Joseph Michael, Dennis Marciniak, Roberta Baker, Roger Cullman, jugolic, Jan Keck, Tanja Tiziana, Zack Ginies, The Projection Booth, and Kim Yokota.

Discussion

40 Comments

Dr. Shrinker / February 15, 2012 at 11:48 am
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For me, three of those theaters, plus a couple more:

1) The Scotiabank Theater (on my personal non-shit list because of the U.S.S Enterprise and Klingon Bird Of Prey ships in the lobby, and for the fact that it had all THX sound in all theaters, plus it was the first to go digital in the early 2000's!)

2)The Coliseum 10 in Scarborough, for the way it's shaped, built, and set up.
Matt / February 15, 2012 at 11:55 am
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Boy, I miss the Uptown.
Todd Toronto / February 15, 2012 at 12:03 pm
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More:

1) Regent - thanks to Theater D, it has incredible acoustics. Maybe the best in the city. Just wish their movie selection were more varied.

2) Cinesphere - I know it just closed, but until about 2000, they would have an annual winter series of 35MM or 70MM Hollywood movies ("Top Gun" and "Lawrence of Arabia" were perennials). A precursor to what IMAX has become today, it was the best place to see a movie in Toronto.

3) Every mutliplex built by Famous/Cineplex since 1996 - Seriously. Yes, they're loud, garish and can be full of obnoxious audiences. But they're also really good places to see a movie. Huge screens, stadium seating, good sound systems. I've been to recently built multiplexes all over the States, and the ones built by then-competitors Famous Players and Cineplex Odeon were fantastic. So much better than the plexes built to that point.

4) Humber - I've never been there in my life, but am glad it's back.

5) Canada Square - The future of sophisticated cinema going, as envisioned by Garth Drabinsky in 1985. An interesting time capsule, and the oldest Cineplex or Famous Players theatre in the GTA. 1985!
here / February 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm
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My loft.
I have one sick sound system.
Mike / February 15, 2012 at 01:18 pm
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Reg Hartt's dungeo-, uh, house.
James replying to a comment from Matt / February 15, 2012 at 02:05 pm
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Me too Matt, me too.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3464
Derek / February 15, 2012 at 02:53 pm
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We have slightly altered the original wording of the entry on the Bloor Cinema to reflect today's news that the theatre will re-open in mid March.
ife / February 15, 2012 at 04:15 pm
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If only someone could bring Mies' TD Centre theatre back to life....
hi / February 15, 2012 at 04:42 pm
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love carleton theather by younge street, very small, seats u can kuddle in, cheap prices!
d / February 15, 2012 at 06:21 pm
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SO hipster
Dr. Shrinker replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / February 15, 2012 at 07:52 pm
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Boy, am I going to miss Cinesphere now that it's closed. Thanks for the memories, Todd.
Nostalgia / February 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm
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The Uptown, The Hollywood and the York Cinemas ..... all gone!
hipster / February 16, 2012 at 01:02 am
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AMC yonge/dundas
Scotiabank (entertainment district)

blog"hipster"TO totally disregards everything mainstream so obviously these two theatres r not included...

yeah, bloor cinema is the BEST theatre. it's OLD, they play like 3 movies a day and most aren't even new releases. but of course, for the hipster vibe, these hipsters would watch paint dry on the screen at bloor cinema over a movie at a theatre that has top quality production/sound/etc.
Sk / February 18, 2012 at 09:13 am
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Uptown ruled! Front row was the best there!
Dr. Shrinker replying to a comment from Sk / February 18, 2012 at 09:37 am
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You said it, buddy.
A C replying to a comment from hi / February 18, 2012 at 11:29 am
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Agreed on the Carlton. That said, please take some lessons in spelling.
Holly Knowlman / February 18, 2012 at 05:31 pm
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Great to see Cinecycle get a mention. For those who have never seen the space, it's an absolute delight and (I think) one of Toronto's coolest venues. It's a bike shop by day and a screening space at night. If you're looking for an excuse to check it out, come along on March 9. We're screening Grease 2 as part of #sequelseries, dedicated to the most memorable (/most terrible) number 2 movies.

More details: http://ow.ly/99zqX

Oktay(ca) / February 19, 2012 at 11:16 am
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Well the best one is, I hate the secret to go out in the open but, Innis Town Hall due to free CINSSU films all year around.
Hassan / February 20, 2012 at 02:08 am
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Morningside Theater is the best place to watch a film on Tuesday's. They're cheap and they offer great theater seating.
Matt / February 21, 2012 at 10:04 am
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I always wondered what happened to the Plaza cinema under the Bay at Yonge and Bloor. Is it buried forever? That had some steep steps, surprised no one got killed walking down there.
MOVIEFACE / February 21, 2012 at 07:00 pm
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Yes, the Plaza was a bit crazy, it felt like being lowered into a mine.

I've never been to Cinecyle, sounds pretty cool.... but Grease 2? I'm not a movie snob, but there isn't a drug or drink invented that could turn that material into entertainment for me.



scott / February 22, 2012 at 02:34 am
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these hipsters would watch paint dry on the screen at bloor cinema over a movie at a theatre that has top quality production/sound/etc. most aren't even new releases. but of course, for the hipster vibe, gokkast
oph replying to a comment from scott / February 22, 2012 at 06:33 am
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"Most aren't even new releases."
No shit. Maybe repertory cinemas will eventually fade like all trendy "hipster" things?
Marc / February 22, 2012 at 11:26 pm
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I know it doesn't have the charm of the older theatres, but the Queensway should be on here. It's a massive complex, and the audio/visuals are fantastic. The ticket prices are reasonable for what you get, although the concessions are ridiculously overpriced. The massive parking lot is a turnoff too, but the theatre itself is definitely worth noting. If I'm not mistaken, it's also the busiest theatre in Canada.
Gabe replying to a comment from Marc / February 23, 2012 at 12:36 am
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I agree! The Queensway is a great spot to see a movie. It's a big complex, it's a big night out, lots of cars, lots of parking.
Parker / February 23, 2012 at 11:24 am
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I can't believe no one's mentioned Jackman Hall at the AGO. Quiet, lots of leg room, and no concession stand=a great place for grown-ups to watch a film.
Rich replying to a comment from Parker / February 29, 2012 at 09:54 am
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Is admission to Jackman Hall connected to AGO admission, or separate from? Is there a web link to what's currently on there?
Sam Smith / February 29, 2012 at 10:30 am
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Youne/Sheppard theatre has the best seats.
Carlton60 / February 29, 2012 at 02:05 pm
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For years I've loved going to the Rainbow Cinemas at Market Square across the street from st. Lawrence Market. It's cheap and quiet. The Fox is great old timey theatre and a trip to the "Goof" across the street is a great night out!
movie / February 29, 2012 at 05:20 pm
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Why not just watch movies at home?
www.806dvd.com
buy and watch at home
Jildren replying to a comment from hipster / March 2, 2012 at 08:02 am
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Im not a hipster and the very use of the word hipster is hipster and douchy to me but I notice that douches tend to call anything that isn't mainstream 'hipster'. The entire point of the article was to highlight alternative theaters. I don't have a beard and I don't wear skinny jeans scarves or toques but if seeking out good restaurants, music, movies and theaters instead makes douches think that makes me a hipster I'll be that. I remember when people with discerning tastes were called connoisseurs.
BeenAround / March 6, 2012 at 03:15 pm
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In the bad old days UofT students could see just about every movie in Toronto via TTC, especially when the Bloor subway line opened - "West Side Story" at the University,"Hiroshima Mon Amour" at Yonge and Dundas, Bergman flicks at a walk-up on Ave Rd just north of Bloor,westerns (and Cupcakes Cassiday) at the Lux on College St....
You could walk in at any time, and stay to see what you'd missed. There were no multi-screen theatres, all showing pretty much the same films, then.
Flash forward 50 years, and although my love of movies has not lessened, I rarely attend first run commercial screenings. Why? BECAUSE I CAN'T BEAR THE CRANKED-UP SOUND TRACKS! My ear drums hurt, my head aches, until the stress drives me out of the theatre!
I am not of the generation who blew out their hearing on heavy rock music. Or of the one whose taste runs to CGI comic book blasters.
Little wonder that "The Artist" was a godsend for me. And little wonder that I appreciate this sites' info re rep theatres.
Please keep up the good work.

Mr. Heavyfoot replying to a comment from BeenAround / March 27, 2012 at 11:14 pm
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'I rarely attend first run commercial screenings. Why? BECAUSE I CAN'T BEAR THE CRANKED-UP SOUND TRACKS! My ear drums hurt, my head aches, until the stress drives me out of the theatre!'

Bullshit. If you can't hear anything in a first-run theater, how the frack do you, or will you, expect to hear anything at the Revue, Fox or Bloor Hot Docs theaters? All of them have had their sound systems rebuilt to the same standards as the first-run theaters, just so that they can keep up and also so that they can show newer movies that aren't on film but that are completely digital. It's most likely NOT the fault of the sound systems as it is more likely YOU having hearing problems, and needing your hearing checked. Better do that soon.
Gloma / May 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm
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I haven't been there for quit long time a lot of the theatre has been changed how to visit once i get back in toronto
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 11:35 pm
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these hipsters would watch paint dry on the screen at bloor cinema over a movie at a theatre that has top quality production/sound/etc. most aren't even new releases. but of course, for the hipster vibe, gokkast
Isaq / February 17, 2013 at 09:38 pm
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Where is the location of the very first image on the article?
Rox replying to a comment from d / September 18, 2013 at 11:55 pm
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UGH god, now its hipster to like movies???
Rox replying to a comment from scott / September 18, 2013 at 11:57 pm
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What does it matter to you?
Grizz Dream / May 26, 2014 at 07:53 pm
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You know what's more annoying than too many dudes with beards and everybody acting a little too cool for school? People incessantly labeling things hipster. Get a life k.
Soila / September 24, 2014 at 06:12 am
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Otrohet erbjuder dig spänning som du länge har missat.
Termen Mother Ι'd Like to Fuck eller MILF, så som det oftast kallas, är ett
begrepp som dee flesta känner ttill idag. Trots det stora antalet kåtɑ tjejer och killar, som sitter і sina hem bara
ett stenkast från dig, är det inte lätt att inleda ett sexuellt förhållande med еn främling.

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