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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 fifteen 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.

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. Evening screenings are around £13, but if you’re turn up during the weekdays matinees it’s £6 to £8 (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 unitl 30th of June 2022, then £15 a year), the Prince Charles Cinema  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 £6 for members; non-member prices can be around £10; 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, events and talks, it’s perhaps the landmark on any cinema map of London.

But the real reason it’s so great is because of a new initiative – all screenings are £3 if you’re under 25. To enjoy this offer, you will need to sign up online on their website.

South Block, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XT​

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. 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