Going to the movies in Prague? If you have your choice of venues, be sure to make the right decision – not all cinemas are created equal. Aided by ten years of Prague moviegoing, I’ve put together the following list compiling my thoughts on the best venues in the city.
Missed the cut: most multiplexes (you know what to expect), and Modřanský Biograf and Kino Radotín, which are decent-enough art houses but don’t really feature a unique selection of films. I’ve left off some other cinemas – the French Institute’s Kino 35 and Karlín’s outdoor summer cinema Regina – due to irregular screening frequency.
Prague 6’s Kino Ořechovka also would have made the list, but it’s currently undergoing a major (and lengthy – it’s been a couple years) reconstruction. And let me take a moment to remember my one-time favorite Prague cinema, Bio Illusion on Vinohradská, which has now been converted into a music club and black light theater; one of my most treasured moviegoing memories was first catching what has become my favorite film – Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! – at Illusion back in 2004, introduced by cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček.
And now – the top 10. Two major factors are involved in these rankings: the physical amenities of the cinema itself, which includes projection and sound quality, seat comfort, concessions, etc.; and the selection of films available, with an eye towards English-friendly screenings. Ticket price generally isn’t a factor, but another reason to favor the art houses; expect to pay 160–230 CZK at a multiplex, and 80–120 CZK at an art house.
Prague’s prototypical art house cinemas, Mat and Evald feature small (smallish – but still larger than the small theaters at Atlas and Světozor) screening halls and a light selection of films – typically, one or two ‘art house’ releases will screen daily for a week or longer, along with some less frequent revival or special screenings.
Both will also feature the occasional (if irregular) English-subtitled Czech movie. Currently, Kino Mat is screening a classic Czech film with English subtitles Monday-Friday; disappointingly, only at 14:30, making it difficult (or impossible) for those with regular working hours to catch.
Bonus: both cinemas also feature a connected café-bar-restaurant; I quite like Mat’s film-themed upstairs venue.
The rest of Cinema City Flora could use a major overhaul (the poorly-designed theaters reek of that 80s/90s multiplex feel, where you have to crawl over 20 people to get to your seat), but the venue scores some major points for containing Prague’s only true IMAX screen. While most of the IMAX-shot (documentary) fare is Czech-dubbed, the cinema also features English-language conversions of major releases like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. I’ll frequently catch a film for a second time if it’s screened at the IMAX, and usually be rewarded for doing so.
The last two screenings I’ve attended at CineStar Anděl have been an absolute nightmare; both Battleship and Prometheus were delayed for more than an hour (!), and what finally hit the screen wasn’t a pretty sight – Battleship was a blurred mess in 35mm, and Prometheus was overcropped so poorly that the P and the S in the main title were chopped off. Bah!
Formerly, Village Cinemas Anděl would have received top marks, especially for the inclusion of English-subtitled copies of major Czech films and undubbed prints of children’s films; since the takeover by CineStar, however, these have mostly vanished (though the cinema will still feature more English-friendly content than other multiplexes), and standards have dipped and not yet recovered. Still, the venue itself is impressive and these things can change.
CineStar Anděl scores some big points for being home to Prague’s largest (and very audience-friendly) film festival, FebioFest, which takes place each year in late March.
“Gold Class” at CineStar Anděl has always been a non-ideal way to see a movie, unless you don’t care about the film and just want to relax. The setup – comfy reclining chairs, table service with a full menu – might appeal to some, but to me it just means additional distractions. Bonus: other patrons will inevitably carry on an unhushed conversation throughout the film, as if they were at home. You might run into some local celebs, however; I spotted Karel Gott at a Gold Class showing of Elizabeth: The Golden Age a few years back.
7. Kino Lucerna
I never considered Lucerna to be among Prague’s top cinemas – weak(ish) selection of films and poor projection standards, a major shortcoming topped off by an almost unwatchable 3D projection of Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams last year – but they’ve seriously upped their game in recent months with a larger selection of films and some special presentations, including Ladies’ Nights, premieres, and even English-friendly screenings (an undubbed copy of Men in Black 3 in 3D, and an English-subtitled print of Pedro Almodovar’s Spanish-language The Skin I Live In.)
The cinema layout itself still leaves something to be desired – I find the screen so small that even the first row isn’t quite close enough, and the sound quality less than pristine – but digital projection standards have also shot up; it’s been a good nine months of regular moviegoing since I’ve been disappointed by Lucerna.
6. Bio Ponrepo
I’ll never forget catching an English-subtitled copy of Rainer Werner Fassbender’s 16-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz at Ponrepo some eight years ago, two eight-hour screenings spread across Saturday and Sunday with 15-minute breaks every couple hours and about a dozen other audience members in attendance. Ah, memories.
Ponrepo is Prague’s premiere film club, showcasing two classic films each day of the week Monday-Friday; only a few will be in English (most are in Czech or in their original language with Czech subtitles), but the venue presents a great opportunity to catch classic, rare, and unusual fare in a cinema setting. You’ll need a membership card (150 CZK for a year) to attend most screenings (a mere 40 CZK with the membership).
One downside: the cinema itself, even after a modest renovation, isn’t exactly impressive; a little tight and cramped, it offers an authentic art house experience.
Note: Bio Ponrepo doesn’t operate during July-August.
Three short years ago, Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům would have taken the very top spot on this list: faultless 35mm and digital projection, competitive pricing (with their Movie Card), the largest repertoire of any of the multiplexes, a weekly ‘black box’ advance screening, and an English-friendly selection, which included English-language copies of otherwise dubbed films and some copies of high-profile Czech films with English subtitles.
That all vanished, literally overnight, when Palace Cinemas was absorbed by Cinema City. Particularly unforgivable was the downgrade in projection standards: along with most multiplexes (worldwide), Cinema City Slovanský dům seems to screen films at a couple foot lamberts too dim under the mistaken idea that it will lengthen the lifespan of the projector’s light bulb (it won’t). This is compounded by the prevalence of 3D screenings, which require the luminance to be set even lower; most cinemas won’t bother to reset the brightness when switching between 2D and 3D films, meaning many multiplexes are screening films far, far darker than they should be. For many these days, a good blu-ray home screening on a widescreen TV delivers a more accurate representation of how the filmmakers intended a movie to look.
But I digress; a year ago I would’ve dumped Cinema City Slovanský dům from this list in disgust, but recently they’ve upped their game to reclaim the position of best multiplex in Prague with the re-introduction of a discount card and undubbed copies of English-language films. Bonus: the staff is usually disarmingly friendly. Keep it coming, guys.
One big drawback: Slovanský dům’s location in Prague can often mean a diverse (tourist) audience less likely to be versed in proper cinema etiquette.
4. Kino Aero
Featuring, perhaps, the best atmosphere of any of Prague’s cinemas, Kino Aero isn’t just a cinema but an ever-popular Žižkov hangout that will typically be packed for hours before and after screenings. It’s a unique environment filled with a generally friendly crowd and staff, and a place for cinephiles to congregate regardless of what’s playing.
But that isn’t usually a problem, as Aero features a wide range of films from current mainstream fare to art house pictures, revival showings, and regular blocks and festivals. My favorite: the Shockproof Film Festival, now in its ninth year, which takes place in late winter and features a range of obscure Z-movies.
3. Bio Oko
Oko’s atmosphere can rival Aero, trading the Žižkov area for Letná but still attracting crowds of film lovers to its recently-renovated café. The atmosphere continues inside the actual theater: at a recent screening of The Chemical Brothers: Don’t Think, the area in front of the stage was converted into dance floor; at other screenings, beach chairs were set up. The cinema also currently features a Trabant convertible among the seats, where a few lucky passengers can recreate that drive-in feel.
In terms of film selection, special presentations, and festivals, Aero and Oko are roughly the same. Deciding between the two is difficult. I give a slight edge to Oko because of the cinema layout, which is a converted theater; while my seat of choice in a cinema is typically front row center (except in the multiplexes, where that’s too close), I really dig catching a film from Oko’s upstairs balcony.
2. Kino Atlas
The best projection standards in Prague, and that includes 3D presentations, which I daresay tops even Flora’s IMAX. Atlas’ main cinema is the place to properly see a movie in Prague, with the only drawback being their selection of films, which is decidedly less impressive than the city’s other art houses at the top of this list.
I had never had a bad experience with Atlas’ projection; that is, until a week ago, when a digital copy of The Dark Knight Rises froze during a key scene (and a deafening buzz blared out across the speakers). Still, the issue was quickly resolved in a few minutes. Call it a minor blip; if you have a choice of where to watch a particular film, I still recommend catching it in Atlas (especially in 3D; just don’t expect a major discount compared to the multiplexes, with 180 CZK ticket prices for 3D projections.)
Let me get my one complaint about Světozor out of the way: the 35mm projection is substandard, and typically problematic, often resulting in a shaky image; during a recent screening of the Iranian film The Last Step, it got so bad that they stopped the projector three times in an (unsuccessful) attempt to resolve it. This isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed, but it’s been an issue for at least a year.
Thankfully, however, 35mm projection is no longer the standard, and Světozor’s digital projection – especially in 4K resolution – is absolutely flawless. The screen in the main theater is appropriately huge, and impressive for an art house. I love sitting in the front row for a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation like Melancholia or The Tree of Life and just immersing myself in the image.
Additionally, Světozor packs the best Prague punch when it comes to selection of films, with up to 10 screenings a day in their two theaters and a number of regular blocks and mini-festivals to mix things up. Because of the diversity, it’s the cinema I find myself most often attending. Světozor is also the prime location to find a Czech film with English subtitles.
But best of all is the friendly and accommodating staff. During a recent screening of Richard Řeřicha’s DONT STOP, advertised English subtitles failed to appear on the digital print. The Světozor staff stopped and restarted the film not once, but twice, in order to accommodate the one English-speaker in the audience. Even the (few) other patrons didn’t seem to mind.
The only real negative about the venue itself is that the café-bar area is quite tiny, which doesn’t allow for the same kind of atmosphere that Aero and Oko are able to generate.
Those are my picks. What’s your favorite cinema in Prague?