Recline and Unwind: NZ's Independent Cinema Experiences

The pink and black exterior of The Mayfair in Kaikoura.

Picture this, it’s Friday night, you’re settling into your favourite reclining lounger, a glass of wine in hand and the opening credits are beginning on the screen in front of you. Sure this situation could be in your living room at home but why not amp up the cosiness vibes and treat yourself to a trip to your local independent cinema.

Words by: Julia Rutherford
Photos by: Supplied 

There’s something different about watching a film on the big screen and going to a boutique movie theatre brings such a sense of nostalgia (even for those of us who have grown up with big chain movie theatres being ever-present).

At any given time of the year, you will find quality films playing at these cinemas, both independent and niche offerings, alongside the occasional blockbuster of the moment. The experience is made complete with comfortable seating, think old-school armchairs - you may even get a whole sofa to yourself, and a delightful selection of treats. From cheese board platters and carefully curated wine lists, to artisan ice creams that no standard choc top can compete with.

Staff holding drinks and working behind the bar at Lumiere Cinema.

Lumière Cinémas

The Arts Centre, Christchurch Central City

“Whether fair or foul weather, let us take you on a trip of a lifetime…”, this is the mantra of the team behind Lumière Cinémas and it is truly fitting when talking about a place that offers you a slice of escapism.

Lumière is housed in what once was the West Lecture Block in Christchurch’s Arts Centre. Surrounded by history, the goal here is to be a mecca for cinephiles and they certainly succeed. The film programme curation is thoughtfully considered and the onsite Bijou Bar offers up a stellar range of wines and craft beers. This is all complemented by cracking cheese boards and supplies from local favourites; Rollickin’ Gelato’s, She Chocolate and Lyttelton Coffee Company.

The brightly lit exterior of Roxy Cinema at night.

Roxy Cinema

5 Park Road, Miramar, Wellington

The Roxy Cinema has a rich history in the New Zealand film world, not least of all its location in Miramar, Wellington - home to the country’s movie-making industry.

Beginning life in 1928 as the Capitol Theatre, it first screened silent movies before making the transition to ‘talkies’. In 1964, the cinema closed and it became a shopping centre, then eventually lay vacant for many years. The site was finally revived and in 2011, Roxy Cinema was born, not only is it lauded for its incredible art deco design but is also a multi-arts venue and hosts a restaurant onsite. This cinema is well known for hosting themed signature events, such as retrospectives and movie marathons, there are quiz nights in the Coco Lounge and a film club that’s free to join

The red seating area inside Alice Cinemas.

Alice Cinemas

209 Tuam St, Christchurch Central City

Alice began its life in 1985 as Alice in Videoland, a small video hire shop that catered to many different film tastes, not just mainstream blockbuster fare. Since its inception, Alice has evolved to include two cinema theatres on-site and still has that same ethos at the heart of its movie screenings today.

Alice hosts regular themed events, subscribes to the classic cinema offering of “cheap Tuesdays” and even throws in a bonus “student cheap Thursday” (just have those IDs at the ready).

Empty red cinema seats.

Penthouse Cinema

205 Ohiro Road, Brooklyn, Wellington

The Penthouse Cinema was originally the Vogue Theatre and opened to Wellingtonian filmgoers in 1939. It has been through many operating iterations in its past, changing its name to the Penthouse in 1975, growing in size and adding a café.

Today it is a well-loved and visited spot, taking pride in its history and old-fashioned charm, whilst never compromising on showing quality films and providing a slice of escapism.

Rubys Cinema and Bar

50 Cardrona Valley Road, Wānaka

Take a step back in time when you walk through the doors of Rubys in Wanaka, where plush velvet seating, dim lighting and warm hospitality await you. This cosy and intimate cinema prides itself on excellent service - you can even have food and drinks scheduled to be delivered to you throughout your movie-watching experience. Rubys also embraces themed or ‘Favourite Days’ - Martini Monday or Golden Oldies Wednesday if you please.

Cinemagoers waiting in the foyer.

Deluxe Cinemas

The Tannery, 3 Garlands Road, Christchurch

Calling The Tannery home, Deluxe Cinemas is a firm favourite among Christchurch locals. Specially designed by cinema architects Audio Visual NZ, careful consideration went into the construction of this space.

Going to see a film at Deluxe is a true experience and it starts as soon as you walk through the front door and are greeted with a range of tasty treats to go with your viewing. From hand-rolled ice creams to gourmet hot nuts, to delicious cheese boards, which all pair nicely with a freshly brewed coffee or perhaps something from the wine list. Relax into the extra-comfy seats and be transported to another world, even if it is just for a couple of hours.

The entrance to Monterey Cinemas at night.

Monterey Cinemas Howick

4/2 Fencible Drive, Howick, Auckland

The Monterey in Howick instantly gives you that feeling of a classic neighbourhood cinema, while still playing the latest blockbusters alongside more independent and arthouse films. Check out a movie here at the beginning of the week to get yourself a real deal, as Mondays and Tuesdays it’s only $10 no matter your age!

Empire Cinema & Eatery

Cafes key icon. Theatre and performance key icon.

214 The Parade, Island Bay, Wellington

Situated in Wellington’s Island Bay is a New Zealand cinema treasure, the Empire founded in 1925 and going stronger than ever almost a century later.

Not only will you find a movie schedule that delivers week after week, but what may be most enticing about the Empire is its fully-licensed eatery. Brunch devotees will be quite happy whiling away a weekend morning over an eggs bene and Havana Coffee Works brew. Once the plates are cleared it’s time to head over to one of the theatres for a film. And why not make a day of it, head back to the eatery after your viewing, for Italian-inspired dinner fare and a glass of whatever takes your fancy from the extensive drinks list.

The Mayfair Arts and Culture Kaikōura

Theatre and performance key icon.

80 Esplanade, Kaikōura

First be wowed by The Mayfair’s iconic pink art deco facade, then step inside and marvel at not only the cinema space but the arts and culture hub it also houses.

Following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, the Mayfair underwent extensive renovation and a real focus was put on not only restoring the movie theatres but on creating a place to inspire people to use their creative thinking and showcase their artistic talents. There are various spaces within the Mayfair that can be hired for different events, from the private use of the cinema, to hosting an exhibition, or even a corporate conference.

The inside of Geraldine Cinema.

Geraldine Cinema

Talbot Street, Geraldine

The Geraldine Cinema is a true icon in this small South Canterbury town and its story dates back to 1924, when it was one of the first buildings in the area to be wired with electricity - quite remarkable at the time! Proud to be independently owned, this cinema is dedicated to providing locals with the latest movies and also the opportunity to hire the space for live music performances. A true treasure found in the heart of the mainland.

The entrance to Dorothy Browns.

Dorothy Browns

18 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown

Local, boutique cinemas don’t come better than Dorothy Browns in Arrowtown. Offering up a movie theatre, bar and bookshop, with an interior that is a combination of charming and funky, and focusing on both contemporary and arthouse films, Dorothy’s is a true treat night (or day!) out. With big comfy chairs to enjoy your viewing experience, there’s even an intermission - a throwback to how things used to be when ‘going to the pictures’, and it’s the perfect opportunity to restock your snacks and wine glass at the Balcony Bar.

The outside of Metro Cinemas in the evening.

Metro Cinemas

Moray Place, Dunedin

The Metro Cinema, found in the basement of Dunedin’s beautiful Town Hall, is proudly locally owned and operated and specialises in screening independent and festival films. It is also pretty unique in being one of the few remaining cinemas in New Zealand with 35mm film projection capabilities. So for any film projection purists and enthusiasts, this is the spot for you!

A film being played on the big screen at Matakana Cinema.

Matakana Cinemas

2 Matakana Valley Road, Matakana

At the heart of the Matakana community, is its namesake cinema, a place where locals and visitors alike can enjoy a world-class movie experience. Nestled in and amongst the main shopping street of this picture-perfect town just north of Auckland, Matakana Cinemas is dedicated to providing a carefully curated film selection. It often screens film festival picks, such as the French Film Festival Aotearoa and you can even hire out one of their theatres for a fundraiser or private event - movie theatre birthdays aren’t only for kids… just saying!