Toronto’s repertory theatres are for the romantics. Screening cult classics, documentaries, foreign, and second-run films, they pose a warmer, muted alternative to the over-stimulating “experiences” offered by generic big box multiplexes. There’s tangible history in their walls, their ticket booths, seats – okay, hopefully not the seat cushions – and concessions.
Here’s our guide to some of Toronto’s oldest movie houses.
Opened in 1913 as the Madison Picture Palace, this single screen, two-floor cinema has operated under various capacities and names throughout its existence. Most recently, it was purchased by the Blue Ice Group in 2011, since managed in cooperation with Hot Docs. As the flagship location for the latter, its contemporary programming is heavy on documentaries, although it holds a standing screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the last Friday of every month. The theatre has also been known to let prominent writers, artists and other curators call the shots, as with their recent Takeover series.
(Photo by West Annex News via Wikimedia)
Locals were sceptical about the Fox when it arrived in 1914 (it was the Pastime Theatre then) to a neighbourhood already boasting two local cinemas, but today it is a mainstay of the Beaches community, screening a mix of classic favourites, second-run movies, documentaries, independent, and foreign films.
(Photo by John Vetterli via Wikimedia)
Shortly after WWII, Odeon capitalized on post-war consumerism and a west-expanding Toronto by building a new single-screen location at the Bloor Streetcar terminus on Jane Street. The location has changed much in the past 16 years; a 1999 $400,000 update brought new carpets, expanded washrooms, digital sound, and larger seats. Kingsway Cinema’s owner Rui Periera reopened the cinema in 2011 after Odeon shuttered it in 2003; and it now has four screening areas that tend toward second-run Hollywood fare.
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A long time second-run theatre since reopening in 2009, the Kingsway was rebranded, attempting to shed its status as a repertory theatre and pledging to run as many first-run Hollywood films as possible. But that hasn’t stopped it from screening the occasional cult classic, and it still has its original projectors handy.
(Photo by JosephIWMolto via Wikimedia)
When Cineplex Odeon abandoned the Carlton over branding concerns, Rainbow Cinemas affiliate Magic Lantern stepped in to save the theatre. While reserving its small screens and viewing areas for a mix of documentaries and independent, foreign, and second-run Hollywood films, they added a couple of upgrades too. Stereo sound, wider seats with retractable armrests, and wider rows were some of these said upgrades – all serving to make the intimate Carlton a more enjoyable experience.
(Photo by grainger via Flickr)
Opened in 1927 by Famous Players as the Belsize, this theatre actually ceased screening films to serve as a venue for live theatre from 1953 ‘til 1971. When it finally reopened as a cinema, it took the name Regent, a title previously used by two earlier Toronto theatres. It continues to honour history today, sticking to an evening-only screening policy.
Built between 1911 and 1912, this repertory theatre since 1972 was rescued by a dedicated grass-roots community in 2007 after Festival Theatres owner Peter McQuillan passed and his children planned to sell it (along with the Royal and the Kingsway). Roncesvalles’ Revue remains an art house mainstay and an integral community fixture, and maintains these statuses with its programming streams. These include screenings supplemented with discussions and tastings, silent films accompanied by live piano, and “Baby & You” shows that encourage new parents to come to the movies.
(Photo by Alex Laney via Wikimedia)
Theatre D Digital saved this 1939-minted theatre from the same fate that threatened the Revue in 2007, and uses the space as a film and television post-production studio in the day. The theatre restricts screenings of local filmmakers, indie art house, and a careful mix of popular and cult classics to evenings as it did with the Regent.
(Photo by SimonP via Wikimedia)