The Resurgence of Repertory Cinema: A Nostalgic Escape to Classic Films

Repertory cinemas in the UK experience a revival, attracting diverse audiences seeking a break from the weekly churn of new releases.

On a bitter Tuesday night in central London, a small crowd gathers outside the Prince Charles Cinema. The cinema, once a theatre and then an adult film house, is hosting a screening of Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings. Despite its reputation as a less-than-stellar film, 134 tickets have been sold, surpassing the number of tickets sold for the newly released Hunger Games film. This is an example of the resurgence of repertory cinema in the UK, where cinemas specialize in screening classic films rather than new releases. After a decline in popularity due to television, physical media, and multiplexes, repertory cinemas are experiencing a revival, attracting audiences seeking a nostalgic escape.

The Decline and Resurrection of Repertory Cinema

Until the 1960s, repertory cinemas were a common sight across Britain. However, the rise of television, the availability of physical media, and the dominance of multiplexes led to their decline. By the early 2000s, most repertory cinemas had vanished. However, since the pandemic, there has been a flicker of life in this form of cinema. In the capital alone, 98 sites now regularly screen repertory films, ranging from boutique and arthouse chains to volunteer-run community cinemas. Additionally, a handful of dedicated repertory houses have opened in recent years. Across the country, there has been a 50% increase in the number of community cinemas, with over 1,500 currently in operation.

The Appeal of Repertory Cinema

The allure of repertory cinema lies in its ability to transport audiences to a bygone era. It offers a break from the constant stream of new releases and provides an opportunity to revisit beloved classics or discover hidden gems. Repertory cinemas attract diverse audiences, from retirees seeking nostalgia to students exploring cinema history. The communal experience of watching these films in a theater setting adds an extra layer of enjoyment. Many repertory cinemas also offer post-screening discussions, creating a space for film enthusiasts to engage in conversations and share their insights.

The Rise of Community Cinemas

One significant aspect of the resurgence of repertory cinema is the rise of community cinemas. These volunteer-run initiatives bring classic films to unconventional venues such as pubs, museums, and schools. Community cinemas serve as cultural hubs, fostering a sense of community and providing access to films that may not be screened elsewhere. Their success is a testament to the demand for repertory cinema and the dedication of film enthusiasts who are willing to organize and curate screenings in their local areas.

The Impact of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in the resurgence of repertory cinema. With the closure of cinemas and limited access to new releases, audiences turned to alternative forms of entertainment. Repertory cinema, with its curated selection of classic films, provided a nostalgic escape during these challenging times. As restrictions eased, the demand for repertory screenings continued to grow. Audiences sought the comfort and familiarity of well-loved films, finding solace in the shared experience of watching them on the big screen.

The Future of Repertory Cinema

While the resurgence of repertory cinema is promising, its future is not without challenges. The competition from streaming platforms and the convenience of home viewing pose a threat to the traditional cinema experience. However, the unique atmosphere and curated programming of repertory cinemas offer something that cannot be replicated at home. To thrive in the digital age, repertory cinemas must continue to adapt and innovate, finding new ways to engage audiences and create memorable experiences.


The resurgence of repertory cinema in the UK signifies a longing for the past and a desire for a different cinematic experience. As audiences seek an escape from the constant stream of new releases, repertory cinemas provide a nostalgic journey into the world of classic films. The rise of community cinemas and the increasing demand for repertory screenings demonstrate the enduring appeal of this form of cinema. While challenges exist, the future of repertory cinema lies in its ability to adapt and create unique experiences that cannot be replicated at home. As audiences continue to seek solace and connection through the power of cinema, the repertory cinema revival shows no signs of slowing down.






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