Prosecco or popcorn: Munich has magnificent cinemas for every taste. If you love the charm of times gone by, you can go to cute, old-fashioned cinemas that are reminiscent of little theatres and often have unreserved seating. If you like to sit back and relax like you’re at home, you can watch independent films in cuddly armchairs and beanbags. And if you need a bit of luxury, you can put your footrest up and have food and drink brought to your seat.
The first film screenings in Munich were shown in 1896 at the Panoptikum on Kaufingerstrasse. These were soon followed by the first cinemas. Some of the first real cinemas in Munich still exist - like the Arena Filmtheater in the Glockenbachviertel since 1912. And while there are always rumours of closures in times of Netflix, Munich is still the perfect place to watch films on the big screen in a huge variety of ways while secretly smooching and rustling popcorn at the back of the room.
Studio Isabella is like a time machine. The art house cinema in Schwabing was established in 1919, and it’s never lost its original charm. Unlike at major cinemas, the man on the till does everything here: He sells cinema tickets, peanuts and drinks – and even puts the film on a little later. The cinema only shows selected films in its 165-seater room. Studio Isabella is known for its Spanish-language films, or “Cine Español”. Independent films are shown in the original every Wednesday – sometimes with subtitles and sometimes without.
If you like Studio Isabella, you’ll love the Museum Lichtspiele near the Isartor. This cinema has absolute cult status in Munich: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has been shown once a week for the past 40 years in the Rokokosaal – a cult film from the 1970s that often attracts audiences in fancy dress. But the cinema also shows sophisticated blockbusters and indie films in the original or with subtitles. It’s worth getting there early, as all seats are unreserved and anarchy often ensues.
“If you love the ABC, you have to start with the ABC”, said the French director Claude Chabrol. He was referring to the ABC-Kino right by the Münchner Freiheit square. It’s a typical art house cinema with a little viewing room on the ground floor, and you leave through the side exits after the screening. The cinema was opened in 1914, showing the best art house and independent films. All of Munich’s most important filmmakers have been in attendance: Fassbinder, Eichinger, Wenders, Valentin, Polt… The ABC got its name in the 1950s, so that it would be mentioned in newspapers ahead of all the other cinemas in Munich.
The Filmtheater Sendlinger Tor is very special indeed, as you can tell by the hand-painted posters at the front of the building. People have been watching films in red plush armchairs here for over 100 years – even on the balcony and in the royal box. Current films are shown, and “Klassik am Sonntag” takes place every Sunday, where recordings of live ballet and opera premières are shown from the Royal Opera House in London.
A nice contrast to this can be found at Neues Arri in Schwabing. The fully refurbished cinema now has three screens and a bar in its large foyer. Guests sit in wide leather armchairs with electrically extendible footrests and lots of space. The film selection may be sophisticated mainstream – not the flicks with the loudest effects – but lots of Hollywood movies are shown as well. There’s also room for German and European productions, as well as film series, matinees, and opera and ballet broadcasts.
You can find a bit of glamour at the Gloria-Palast. The cinema by Stachus not only offers a champagne reception, but also culinary delights that are brought to your comfy seat during the advert-free prelude. There’s plenty of legroom – and even footrests. The film selection ranges from the latest movies and special classics to matinees and live broadcasts of classical concerts and operas from around the world.
The Astor Cinema Lounge at Hotel Bayerischer Hof only has 38 seats, making it very intimate – and, as the name suggests, it’s perfect for smart film lovers who’d like a little treat. The waiters come right to your comfy couch. The cinema shows selected Hollywood flicks and old classics from the 1950s and 60s.
The lovingly renovated Neues Maxim on Landshuter Allee in Neuhausen holds its own little curiosity: The naturally lit cinema hall on the ground floor is also used for cultural events. There’s also a smaller room with beanbags and a cosy living room feel. The latest blockbusters aren’t shown here; this is a place to enjoy non-mainstream films – often in the original. There are also frequent debates held with actors and filmmakers.
The Filmmuseum on Sankt-Jakobs-Platz between Marienplatz and the Viktualienmarkt food market is one of seven non-commercial film museums in Germany that are funded by cities and municipalities. The term “museum” might be a bit confusing for some visitors, as there are no cinema exhibitions here; instead, you can enjoy new films every day in the 165-seater auditorium, including retrospectives, topical film series with German and international productions, and selected premières – all in the original with subtitles. Directors, actors and other filmmakers are regularly in attendance to discuss the films with the audience. If you’re in the mood for a big dose of culture, you can firstly visit the Stadtmuseum (City Museum) upstairs and learn more about Munich. It’s always worth stopping off at the Stadtcafé on the ground floor as well. You can spend a really nice full day there.
The City-Kinos on Sonnenstrasse are also dedicated to the best art house films – but not only that. The programme is carefully chosen by the people in charge: Whether indie or mainstream, the films just have to be good. The appropriate cinema hall is chosen to match the genre. Films are either shown in the large room with around 350 seals or in a more intimate hall. All the cinema visitors then meet outside afterwards in the secluded courtyard.
A unique cinema experience can be found at the Werkstattkino near Gärtnerplatz. A staircase leads from the tiny backyard to the screening room below. The films shown here aren’t shown anywhere else in Munich: sex films, biker movies and highly specialised documentaries – a fascinating mixture of poetry and trash right next to the Fraunhofer-Wirtshaus restaurant.
Monopol on Schleissheimer Strasse is sometimes almost forgotten, as it looks so inconspicuous from the outside. On the inside, there’s a wide selection of films and no infinitely long adverts. The cinema advertises “No popcorn and no nachos!”. It might sound strange, but it makes sure nobody’s disturbed by rustling and crumbs. But guests can order a gin and tonic or other drinks at a bar in the hall. Anyone who feels attached to Monopol can “sponsor a chair” to offer the cinema a little financial support. The name of the donor will then be forever displayed on a cinema seat in Munich.