A Guide To London’s Budget Cinemas

Cinema might not be the dominant medium of mass entertainment it was in the early to mid twentieth century, but it isn’t going anywhere.

The famously recession-proof industry maintains its popular appeal – annual admissions increased by almost 10 million people last year. Life might be a financial struggle for most, but the opportunity to see images of a major Western metropolis facing a hyper-real apocalypse is rarely turned down.

But while attendance increases, so do ticket prices. The average UK cinema price has increased well above inflation this century – believe it or not, but ten years ago the average price was less than £5. Within London, as with all other economic indices, the limit is even higher; and a last-minute, prime-time trip to Leicester Square – where you’ll find the flagship Odeon, Vue and Empire cinemas – might set you back almost £20 (and that’s not including the extra for 3-D glasses).

Despite its reputation as a blood-sucking vampire of finance capital, there are still pockets of resistance in this great city. Enlightened, weird and radical cinemas continue to show excellent screenings, both new and old, for democratic prices. So next time you’re a cash-strapped tourist or resident wandering through the rain looking for a companion, head here to dance with lights.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts Cinema

One of the most interesting things about London’s ICA is its position: it occupies one of the few addresses on The Mall – the flag-lined boulevard that connects Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. Since the ICA is best known for art that engage with subversive themes, it’s a funny incongruity – learned radicals can pick up a copy of Lenin’s April Theses in the shadow of the oldest imperial monarchy in the world.

The spirit carries over into the ICA’s cinema, which features two screens and a searching mixture of programmed seasons and latest releases.  At the moment they’re showing the hallucinatory odyssey Embrace Of The Serpent and Matteo Garrone’s Cannes-acclaimed Tale of Tales. Evening screenings are around £10, but if you’re turn up during the day it’s £6 (or £3 for members).

The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH
Closed Mondays


The Prince Charles Cinema


With a weekly £1 screening for members (membership costs just £10 a year), the Prince Charles is one of London’s cheapest. Known for its love of the cultish and eccentric – they famously show The Room every month; considered by many to be the “worst film ever made” – watching a film here is a communal experience. Put another way, it looks and feels like one of those cinemas people in movies actually go to.

A mixture of old 35mm screenings; recent classics; and films that have come out but finished showing everywhere means there’s something for everyone. A daytime screening is £4 for members; non-member prices can be around £7 or £8; and the only more expensive things are the famous sing-a-longs and pizza-and-beer screenings.

 7 Leicester Pl, London WC2H 7BY​

BFI Southbank


Established by Royal Charter in 1933, the British Film Institute is the central institution of British cinema, and its flagship cinema is the BFI Southbank, which sits on the southern bank of the Thames a few minutes walk from Waterloo. As with the rest of the South Bank, it’s work of mid-century modernism, with high concrete ceilings and plush velvet seating. With a mixture of new releases, populist programmes (Spielberg, Teenage Kicks), events and talks, it’s perhaps the landmark on any cinema map of London. Also with London Film Festival fast approaching – the opening night was just announced – it’s good to have on your radar.

But the real reason it’s so great is because of a new initiative – all screenings are £3 if you’re under 25. All you have to do is show a valid I.D. and if there’s a spare ticket, it’s yours for less than the price of a beer at the bar. You can only buy £3 tickets less than 45 minutes before the screening, though.

South Block, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XT​

The David Lean Cinema 


 

The David Lean Cinema nestles in a clock tower in Croydon, South London. Built in the 1990s to commemorate the illustrious director who was from Croydon, it’s a not-for-profit community-run cinema that focuses on art-house, independent and foreign-language cinema. After some troubles that saw it closed down, it was re-opened after a community-led campaign in 2014. All the better – few cinemas have the intimacy and community-spirit as the David Lean. It’s £8 for an evening ticket and £6.50 concessions.

9 Katharine St, Croydon CR9 1​

Sands Cinema Club 


Sands Cinema Club is probably the most unique venue on this list, and not only because it’s completely free. Located in the Grade II listed building in Rotherhithe that houses Sands Films production company – it’s an incredible building filled with costumes, paintings, bureaus and trinkets – it does weekly and monthly screenings for anyone intrigued by its excellent programme.   

Hosted and programmed by a professorial French cinephile, who introduces each film and chairs a short discussion afterwards, the seasons are usually categorised by decade. At the moment it’s art-house and world cinema of 2005 – including films from Michael Winterbottom’s hilarious Cock and Bull Story to more obscure Iranian dramas. Head to the website to reserve a ticket and join their mailing list – donations are encouraged but not required.

82 St Marychurch St, London SE16 4HZ