Article originally published 2017, updated May 2022.
London's independent cinemas are flourishing once more after the forced closures and restrictions of the pandemic. Here, we recommend some of the best indie venues across town — all worth making a special visit.
Note: we know cinemas from the Curzon, Everyman and Picturehouse groups have plenty of local fans, but we're not including them in this list, because — even though many of them are very lovely — we're not sure they absolutely fulfil the 'indie cinema' criteria any more.
1. ActOne Cinema
Can you guess the location from the name? Acton's community cinema bravely opened in October 2021, while pandemic uncertainty still bubbled away. ActOne is a double triumph for it not only brought a new cinema to Acton, but it also rescued the derelict library building that was under threat of redevelopment.
This single screen cinema has quickly established itself at the heart of the community, showing the latest films but also serving as a meetup spot, with a café/lounge run by family-owned local business Bears Ice Cream. ActOne also has heavyweight backing in the shape of film critic Mark Kermode.
Best for: New releases and a natter with friends
Address: The Old Library, High St W3 6NA
2. ArtHouse Cinema
More than just a cinema, the ArtHouse in Crouch End mixes the world of film, art, live music, theatre, dance, workshops, live streaming, comedy, and anything else that takes their fancy into one community-serving arts venue. They've even got a film-themed book club.
The cosy two-screen cinema opened in Crouch End's former Salvation Army Hall in 2014; it's become a welcome addition to London's indie cinema scene, particularly since the seats were done up.
Best for: Cosy cinema, and some art on the side
Address: 159A Tottenham Lane, N8 9BT
3. BFI Southbank
The BFI Southbank's four screens show classic, independent and non-English language films, plus new and re-releases.
As well as showing more than 2,000 films each year, The BFI Southbank also hosts the annual BFI London Film Festival (the UK's largest film festival) and offers punters an exciting exhibition space, plus masses of books and free films in the on-site Reuben Library and Mediatheque, and well-appointed cafes and bars for pre- or post-film sustenance.
Best for: Getting your cinema geek on at the same time as seeing critically acclaimed films
Address: South Block, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XT
4. Cine Lumiere
Cine Lumiere is part of the Institut Français, the French Cultural Institute in London, just a stone's throw from the V&A and the Natural History Museum.
Located in a lavish masterpiece of a building (look out for the marble staircase, complete with Rodin statue), and named after the Lumière brothers, this cinema shows contemporary French, European and world cinema, as well as French classics on a Sunday. And there's special programming for kids.
Best for: International cinema
Address: 17 Queensberry Place, SW7 2DT
5. Electric Cinema
The Electric Cinema is one of the oldest working cinemas in the country; not that you'd know from its beautifully refurbished, plush interior.
Watch new releases with a glass of red, from one of of 65 leather armchairs with footstalls and side tables; or push your cinematic boat out and book one of the six double beds in the front row, complete with snuggly cashmere blankets.
It's like watching films from the comfort of your own home, but, well, much, much better.
A second iteration of the Electric has now opened inside the former BBC Television Centre in White City.
Best For: Indulgent film watching
Address: 191 Portobello Road, W11 2ED,
This incarnation of the Genesis Cinema opened in 1999; but the Whitechapel venue has been offering real East Enders a variety of different forms of entertainment since 1848 (pub, music hall, cinema: you name it, the building's done it).
Today's Genesis offers five screens of cinematic delights: choose between mainstream and accessible arthouse offerings, as well as festivals, special events, poetry slams and more.
For a special treat, book seats in the luxurious Studio 4 or Studio 5, and take one of the 42 or 40 armchairs respectively, plus footstools and blankets before ordering from the in-screen bar.
The Yard outdoor food and drink area is a recent addition that only adds to the experience.
Best For: A luxurious boutique cinema experience
Address: 93-95 Mile End Road, E1 4UJ
7. The Lexi Cinema
This boutique, independent cinema inside a renovated Edwardian theatre is also a charitable social enterprise; those friendly staff helping you to tickets, popcorn and drinks are pretty much all volunteers.
The Lexi's single screen plays a mix of everything from today's blockbusters to arthouse and foreign films; plus they host special events, and Q&As; baby screenings let you go to the cinema with a little one; add to that comfy seating, a stunning sound-system and a cosy bar. The cinephiles of Kensal Green are a lucky bunch.
Best For: Planning a private screening — you know all your money's going to a good cause.
Address: 194B Chamberlayne Road, NW10 3JU
Peckhamplex is London's only independent multiplex. Scruffy around the edges but with a big heart, like the rest of Peckham, The Plex is mainly loved for the cheapness of its ticket prices.
There are six screens, usually dominated by blockbusters; but recently the 'Plex team has committed to showing at least one "independent, art-house or foreign language film" a week. They also host Q&As and special events; it's one of the venues in the innovative Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival.
You don't choose Peckham Plex because it has a great website, plush seating, or organic on-trend snack options; you go because it's cheap and cheerful.
Best For: Pretending you're stuck in a 90s time-warp. And did we mention it was cheap?
Address: 95A Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
9. Phoenix Cinema
The Phoenix on Finchley Road is one of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the UK; it opened in 1912 and is still flourishing today, showing a combination of new releases; arthouse films; live streams from theatre, opera and old school classics.
By contributing to this charitable enterprise, punters at the Phoenix are in good company; its patrons include Benedict Cumberbatch, Maureen Lipman, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Michael Palin and Mark Kermode.
Best For: Old school cinematic charm
Address: 52 High Road, N2 9PJ
10. Prince Charles Cinema
The Prince Charles is the last remaining independent cinema in the West End; previous uses for the 1960s building have been a theatre, and a porn cinema.
Today, the Prince Charles proudly offers a little bit of everything: quirky and classic film screenings, blockbusters, special events and retrospectives. Seasons dedicated to 007 and Jurassic Park have run alongside Sundays dedicated to Studio Ghibli and Jacques Rivette and Ingmar Bergman.
We particularly like the sing-a-long-a sessions at the Prince Charles: very silly evenings dedicated to dressing up and crowing along to the Sound of Music, Grease, Dirty Dancing and more.
Kudos too, to this cinema's cool use of its canopy; as well as advertising films, it also sports cult film quotes, obscure messages, other gags and taunts other local cinemas.
Best For: Movie marathons and fabulous singalongs
Address: 7 Leicester Place, WC2H 7BY
11. Regent Street Cinema
A film lover's dream, the Regent Street Cinema is the birthplace of British cinema: it's here that in 1896, the Lumière brothers' Cinématographe was first shown to a paying audience.
Following a £6.1m restoration project, completed in 2015, the stunning Regent Street Cinema is now one of the few places in the country you can see 16mm and 35mm film, as well as the latest in 4K digital film.
Alongside exclusive premieres, retrospectives, documentaries, animation and experimental cinema, the cinema hosts a kids club, and offers indulgent double-bills.
Best For: Gilt-edged cinematic history
Address: 309 Regent Street, W1B 2UW
12. Rio Cinema
The not-for-profit Rio Cinema in Dalston offers just one screen within its lush, Grade II listed art deco interior.
Films shown on the Rio's one screen range from blockbusters to arthouse classics, with late shows at the weekend, some double bills on Sundays, and popular special screenings for children and the over 50s. If you have a Hackney library card, your Tuesday night tickets are even cheaper.
Best For: Grandparents and kids. Separately, or together.
Address: 107 Kingsland High Street, E8 2PB