Wellington is a known hotspot for filmmakers, but it’s an equally attractive location for those who want to see the final cut.
The city is full of unique, historic and simply lovely cinemas to watch a movie, from neighborhood gems to grand theaters worthy of world premieres.
Many of them offer a little something more than your standard popcorn and ice cream – think cocktails, comfy seats on a couch, and star-studded events.
Here are the best places to watch a movie in Wellywood.
* Suburban Spotlight: Why You Should Visit Miramar, Wellington
* Dome Cinema: Inside New Zealand’s coolest picture palace
* World famous in New Zealand: The Roxy Cinema and the Coco restaurant in Wellington
The Embassy Theater
No cinema could be more iconic than Wellington’s grand old lady, The Embassy.
The century-old Kent Terrace Picture Palace hosted the 2003 premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kingwhich saw Courtenay Place transformed into a giant red carpet and over 100,000 fans showed up to meet the stars.
The cinema is just as impressive inside as it is outside: a magnificent marble staircase takes you up to the main theater, which can accommodate more than 750 spectators in front of its giant screen.
All your favorite movie snacks are available at the candy bar, but there’s also coffee, wine, beer and food available at Blondini’s Café & Bar in the upstairs lobby, which can be taken to theater with you.
Downstairs, a futuristic tunnel takes you past two smaller screens and The Black Sparrow, a cozy 1930s-inspired cocktail bar that’s the perfect place to meet for a pre-movie drink.
The Roxy Cinema
The suburb of Miramar is the heart of Wellington’s film scene, home to Wētā FX, Wētā Workshop and Sir Peter Jackson himself. It is therefore not surprising that you will find one of the best cinemas in the country here.
The Roxy began life as the Capitol Theater, which operated from 1928 to 1964. After being left to languish for several years, the Art Deco building was taken over by a group of film industry heavyweights and , after a major restoration, reopened in 2011.
Movie buffs will find plenty of details to discover, from the statues of Gandalf and Gollum to the stunning sci-fi mural by Wētā artist Greg Broadmore. You can even see a real Oscar – cinema co-owner Jamie Selkirk received his Oscar for editing The king’s return on display.
Foodies also flock to The Roxy to visit the on-site restaurant, Coco at The Roxy, where Chef Nic Spicer serves up elegant small plates and hearty Sunday roasts. Coco is also home to another of the Roxy’s secret weapons – Ray Letoa, one of the country’s top mixologists, whose cocktails are as magical as anything you’ll see on the big screen.
All of that before we even get to the movies – but you can be sure The Roxy’s taste is just as great in that department. For the full experience, head to one of their special events, which includes retro screenings, singing, film and dining experiences, and sometimes even Q&A sessions with visiting filmmakers and celebrities.
Light House Cuba, located just off bustling Cuba Street, is the perfect oasis for movie buffs in the city.
This neat little cinema has three screens showing both indie films and mainstream releases, so you can enjoy the latest blockbusters in boutique bliss.
The seating here really puts other cinemas to shame – each theater has comfortable two-seater sofas with cushions, so you can really feel at home. The snack counter doubles as a cafe and bar, with beer, wine, hot drinks, food, ice cream, and classic lollipops (including frozen pineapple chunks — the best kind). There’s also mezzanine seating, which is a nice place to catch up with friends over coffee before a movie.
Light House is locally owned, with sister cinemas in Petone and Pāuatahanui.
A short drive up the hill from the CBD, in the New York-inspired suburb of Brooklyn, is another art deco treasure – Penthouse Cinema & Café.
The cinema was built in 1939 and has been owned by the same family since the mid-1970s, who have taken care to preserve its original character. Today, the cinema has four screens, which show a diverse range of films.
There’s a cafe on-site, serving brunch and dinner, with counter food available in between. It’s fully licensed and you can buy drinks to take with you into the movie.
Wellington’s southernmost suburb, Island Bay, is home to the charming Empire Cinema, which takes pride of place on The Parade.
The cinema ran from 1925 to 1964, before being reborn as a shoe store and then a hardware store. But in 2004, it was converted into a cinema. It underwent another revamp in 2015 and now has three cozy theaters — all with sofas — and a licensed restaurant.
The restaurant is open for brunch and dinner, with pastas, salads, and delicious snacks like calamari and mac and cheese bites. They also make great coffee and food, and all your movie essentials.
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