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Why Do We Watch Old Films At The Cinema?

Movies at the cinema

The first film I remember seeing at the cinema was The Jungle Book. It’s a pretty great choice for your first cinema trip – a Disney classic that’s popularity continues to this day. I will not have appreciated this at the time but this film was being shown decades after its original release. I find great joy in seeing “old films” at the cinema, seeing a new film at the cinema is a big deal, but seeing an old film is on another order of magnitude. For the purposes of this article “old films” are those which were released before I was born or was much too young to see them.

Robert De Niro enjoying a trip to the cinema in Cape Fear // Credit: Universal Pictures
Robert De Niro enjoying a trip to the cinema in Cape Fear // Credit: Universal Pictures

The Cinema At Home

I grew up in the great age of home video and watched numerous old films from the comfort of my own home and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I started seeing these sorts of films at the cinema. The cinemas I went to in my childhood didn’t really spend much time on old films, in fairness I think the cinema in Sunderland when I was a child had a grand total of two screens and so was busy enough keeping up with new releases. It was when I started going to independent cinemas that this became an option

A few highlights of seeing old films:

Casablanca – Already one of my favourite films this was a fantastic viewing and worth it just for the La Marseillaise scene on the big screen. Incidentally, I have also seen a play version of Casablanca where we were told to sing along with the La Marseillaise, lyrics were provided, which I wholeheartedly participated in and had to try and not do in the cinema screening.

Alien and Aliens – I was amazingly late in watching these films and saw them both in the space of one week at the cinema. I loved both of them and instantly saw any number of sci-fi films that came after these films in a different light, seeing where they got their influences from.

Jaws – Before I rewatched Jaws at the cinema all of the Jaws films had melded into one bad film, the poor quality sequels adjusting my memory of the original. Jaws is a spectacular film and worthy of seeing at the cinema and I am so glad I took this chance to reappraise it.

2001: A Space Odyssey – Another film that I already loved but watched as the final movie in all-night film marathon and I would advise against seeing such an unusual film on no sleep. The final twenty minutes of the film was even more bizarre than it’s meant to be.

And the lowlight – an accepted classic of cinema – Jules et Jim which was one of the most appallingly dull and annoying films I’ve ever seen.

Gremlins watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Gremlins watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this picture captures the feeling of my trip to see the Jungle Book //credit Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Warner Bros

One of the themes in the film Midnight in Paris is the common belief that some part of the past was inherently better than your present. I have long that the feeling that I missed out on things because I was born too late, by the time I had seen The Shining I had already seen The Simpson’s parody many times and that feeling of seeing The Shining without things like this was unobtainable. This specific type of nostalgia is probably not helpful but seeing old films in the cinema can be a simple way of getting a bit of that feeling of not missing out.

As has been said by many people there is an important social aspect to cinema and seeing a film in a crowded screen is a different experience to seeing it at home. I recently saw Aliens at the cinema (for the second time) and the person sitting next to me had clearly never seen the film before as they spent the entire film jumping out of their seat every five minutes. With an old film, there’s also the feeling that the people you’re with are all part of that film’s appreciation society – most people there will be fans of the film. In the queue waiting to see The Princess Bride the people in front of me struck up a conversation with me (breaking strict social conventions of being English) knowing at the very least I liked The Princess Bride which is more than most conversations with strangers have going for them.

Despite video, DVD, Netflix etc there is something special about seeing a film at the cinema. I am not a purist who screams at people who streamed a film rather than seeing it at a cinema or decry a filmmaker’s choice to release their film on Netflix rather than in cinemas, I see a diversity of platforms as a good thing. The “old films” that I have seen at the cinema, most I had already seen, many I owned on DVD, but I was overjoyed at the opportunity to see them in a cinema.

Also Read: The Ingredients Of A Cult Classic

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Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.