Paris is central in the history of cinema. After all, it was at the Grand Café near the Place de l’Opéra that on December 28, 1895, people sat down to the world’s first movie screening. Arthouse film thrived here during the 1960s and 70s and, thankfully, dozens of historic, forward-thinking cinemas like the 10 on this list still promote independent filmmakers.
Action Christine is actually just one of three Action cinemas tucked away in the maze of streets that is the Latin Quarter, the other two being the Grand Action and the Desperado (formerly known as the Actions Écoles). Studio Christine first opened in April 1973 and today it runs more like a film club than a cinema, principally screening restored copies of classic films. It’s perhaps the best place on this list to head for some unadulterated nostalgia.
Le Champo is a real Parisian institution. A favorite of students at the Sorbonne, as well as President François Mitterand and director Claude Chabrol, who called it his ‘second university’, it was established in 1938. Hardcore cinephiles will appreciate its unusual mirror-based periscope projection technology, which permits the projector and screen to be floors apart in the building, and everyone can find something they want to see in its broad range of films. Particularly popular are its midnight to breakfast triple bills, which you can enjoy for just €15, and the 10 movies for €50 bargain.
Le Brady, one of the few cinemas to be found in the neighborhood of Strasbourg-Saint-Denis in the 10th arrondissement, turned 60 in 2016. Once a regular haunt of the acclaimed director François Truffaut, it was extensively refurbished in 2009 to transform it into a theater-cum-cinema, with two screening rooms capable of accommodating 100 and 39 people respectively. Its current program of films is well-balanced between supporting output by contemporary filmmakers as well as drawing cinema-goers’ attention to the overlooked classics of years past.
The Cinéma du Panthéon holds the title of being Paris’ oldest surviving and functioning movie theater. Opened in the heart of the Latin Quarter in 1907, it was bought by the film producer Pierre Braunberger in 1929. Braunberger famously ‘discovered’ the filmmaking talents of Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Alain Resnais and passionately promoted French New Wave cinema. He was also the one to first show foreign films in their original language in France. To mark the cinema’s 100th birthday, Catherine Deneuve designed the salon-style interiors of its tearoom. The films on offer tend to be international and wonderfully obscure.
The Reflet Médicis started life as a distinguished drama theater before being converted into a palace of independent film in 1964. Located down a nondescript street in the fifth arrondissement, the Reflet is the ideal spot for indulging in one of the classics of world cinema, which it shows—by and large—in the original language. The cinema also organizes debates and conferences with famous filmmakers as well as much-appreciated retrospectives of the work of history’s great directors like Jean Renoir and George Cukor.
The Cinéma La Clef has its roots in the civil unrest of May 1968. The following year, Maurice Frankfurter bought a dilapidated building in the center of Paris’ student district in which to establish his cinema. It quickly became a locus for political debates and the projection of independent, informed films. Its current editorial line persists in this dedication to politically and artistically engaged cinema and it also places emphasis on discovering new filmmakers. La Clef’s screening rooms, which seat 120 and 65 people respectively, are a haven for lovers of documentary film.
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Studio 28 was described by Jean Cocteau as the ‘cinema of masterpieces, and the masterpiece of cinemas’. He did design the theater’s magnificent candelabras but one can assume his view wasn’t totally skewed by his own handiwork. The Studio, as it’s known, opened in 1928 as Paris’ first avant-garde cinema. Within two years, it completed the rite of passage of any arthouse cinema worth its salt by premiering a subsequently banned picture: Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s L’Age d’or, a critique of the Catholic Church’s approach to sexuality. Today, it offers a mix of independent and big budget European and American films.
The Grand Rex is the most extravagant of Paris’ arthouse cinemas, famous for its Art Deco design, unmissable neon sign, and epic auditorium which counts 2,800 seats, making it the largest screening room in Europe. Opened in 1932, the cinema is now a listed historical monument and, strangely enough, houses a popular nightclub in its basement. The Grand Rex tends to show more blockbusters than the other cinemas on this list but it nonetheless continues to be independently owned and the spectacularly plush interiors make up for the restricted selection of films.
Studio Galande has become legendary for its twice-weekly showings of the cult musical comedy TheRocky Horror Picture Show, which has been going on for 40 years. Every Friday and Saturday night at 10pm, the screening room is taken over by acting troupes like the No Good Kings or the Sweet Transvestites who lead the audience in singalongs, dancing, and even water fights. Aside from Jim Sharman’s classic, Studio Galande screens the best contemporary independent films from around the world, often long after they’ve gone out of more mainstream cinemas.
Named after the debut film of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, Accattone ceased operating as a full-time cinema in 2012. However, its legacy of being one of Paris’ most uncompromising arthouse cinemas has been taken into the stewardship of the 3 Luxembourg group. Now, the screening room is open for business between Friday and Monday, showing some of the most thrilling works of contemporary filmmaking.