Melbournians love film, and there are plenty of large mainstream cinemas to accompany the more historic or idiosyncratic independent venues showing foreign and art house fare. While most big-budget Hollywood blockbusters will appear in Australia on the same weekend they debut overseas, there are several films every year that are either delayed significantly, or don’t appear here in theatres at all.
New films are released every Friday. As such, it has become common for cinemas in Australia to sell Midnight screening tickets to big-event, action-adventure films, so that fans can see these movies on Thursday night before a premiere sell-out weekend.
When films are in a language other than English, they are generally subtitled. The only exception to this are Japanese animations that are released dubbed with a full English speaking recast, or Bollywood films that appear in their original format with no support for English speakers. Cinemas are very good about making this distinction known, and in the event that different versions exist (dubbed, subtitled, or neither), the difference will be clearly marked.
Censorship laws in Australia are moderate, although there is no enforced editing of films. In other words, a film will be shown either in its entirety or not at all. If it doesn’t pass the Censorship Board, it simply doesn’t make it into the country.
In addition to art-house films, this Cinema chain hosts many foreign film festivals. Visit their website, where you can view session times and book online.
Village is one of the major cinema chains in Melbourne. They show all of the mainstream blockbuster movies, but also have two subsidiary cinema chains at each of their main complexes, Gold Class and Cinema Europa. Cinema Europa screens art house movies. Gold Class is an intimate, exclusive (and expensive) cinema for less than 25 people screening mainstream blockbuster movies with luxury seating (leather, reclining) and service staff at your call to provide more wine or popcorn. You can view screening times and book online.
Australia’s other main cinema chain, showing mostly mainstream films and the occasional Asian or Indian blockbuster (with subtitles). Offering a Director’s Suite experience similar to Village Gold Class, these theatres are generally the most expensive.
Seasonal Outdoor Cinemas
In the summer months, outdoor screenings of classic films is common. A quintessential part of Melbourne culture, enjoying a film in the warm breeze outdoors with friends and a picnic dinner, under the stars can be a great night out for even the most jaded movie-hater.
Roof, 252 Swanston St, Melbourne
Limited seating makes for intimate and fun screenings. Located on the top of the historic Curtain House building in the middle of the city, this bar-cum cinema shows cult films and fan favourites during its season.
Melbourne Moonlight Cinema
Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
Held for a handful of weeks each summer in the Royal Botanic Gardens, these events are by far the most fun screenings under the stars. Bring your food, wine and friends, and get there early for a good seat. Beanbags are available for rent, but generally run out quickly. As these are huge events with many people, certain etiquette applies. Even though you are outdoors, smoking is confined to a set smoking-area. Chairs are allowed, but usually only used by the most self-absorbed; bring a picnic blanket so the people behind you can see too.
St. Kilda OpenAir Cinema
18 Jacka Blvd, St Kilda
Held a few times during summer on the roof of the St. Kilda Sea Baths, this is a great place to catch one of your favourite 80’s films. Right on the beach (chilly, bring a sweater), this hipster-centric cinema experience begins and ends with a well stocked bar and live band (sometimes playing music from the film).
DVD PURCHASE / RENTAL
There are two chain DVD rental shops in Melbourne, Blockbuster and Video Ezy. These large-scale stores have plenty of stock and new releases on the day of their release. You can usually borrow for between a couple of dollars for older movies to $6 or $7 for a new release. You can generally expect to obtain better value for borrowing more DVDs at the one time (3 for 1 offers etc). These stores are located in almost every suburb, however the recent spread of broadband internet and streaming pay-per-view movies on Foxtel have severely hurt their business and both chains are closing stores regularly.
To sign up for a membership with one of these rental stores, you must have a valid credit card. Nothing is charged to this, but the contract you sign will include a clause that your card may be charged the licensed price of a DVD (around $70) if you abscond with it. You will also need to provide valid photo ID that shows your current address, or a passport and utility bill displaying your name and address.
Buying DVDs in Australia is generally more costly than in most other countries, with a new release selling for as much as $30. Every major department store, music and electronics store, or large supermarket chain sells DVDs.
OPERA, THEATRE, BALLET
Melbourne Arts Centre
100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
03 9281 8000
Melbourne’s premiere venue for world-class theatre performances, ballets, classical music and opera events is the Arts Centre. This collection of theatre spaces and galleries hosts leading national and international arts companies all year round. Visit the Arts Centre website to see what is scheduled during the current and upcoming seasons. Ticket prices are dependent on seating allocation (A reserve – D reserve, with A being the most expensive). Prices range from $50 to $175, depending on the performance type, day of the week, and time of the day.
113 Sturt St, Southbank
03 9685 5111
This venue includes two theatres and a café. As its name suggests, these theatres are set in an atmospheric converted brewery’s malthouse. It is home of the award winning Playbox Troupe, who are dedicated to contemporary Australian theatre. You can buy tickets online or at the door. There is usually no need to buy too far in advance, with a week or two being adequate unless a show is generating a high level of buzz.
Heritage Theatres (operated by Marriner Theatres)
These five, century old theatres situated around the CBD generally host large production, Broadway style musicals such as Cats and Les Miserables. In addition to theatre, the historic Forum Theatre frequently showcases big name musical acts. Tickets start at $70 and should be bought well in advance. All tickets are (regrettably) available through the horrible, poorly-designed, difficult-to-navigate Ticketek website.
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
This boutique theatre is located in the underground level of 45 Flinders Lane (hence the name). FFD is a progressive theatre and tickets are highly sought after. Book well in advance.
Chapel off Chapel
12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
03 8290 7000
Literally housed in an old chapel just off Chapel Street in Prahran, Chapel off Chapel is not only known for its great modern plays, but also its hosting of acoustic sessions for some of the world’s most talented musicians. You can buy tickets on the website, or at the door. Advance sales vary depending on what’s on. Although it’s not rare to be able to get tickets a few minutes before a show, early booking is advised if you don’t want to be turned away.
Seasonal Outdoor Productions
Shakespeare in the Park
Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
A regular summer event, each season sees this theatre company performing a different classic by the Bard in the Royal Botanic Gardens. The location rarely changes (near the conservatory, across from the Shrine of Remembrance), but the way the space is used is different for each season. Past productions have seen the use of theatre-in-the-round, travelling stage (the crowd moves to a different location from scene-to-scene, following the actors), and traditional elaborate, semi-permanent sets.
Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston Street, CBD
A little room in the Melbourne City Town Hall (enter via the Swanston St door) that sells tickets to plays and productions for (as the name suggests) half price. On any given day you can show up and buy half price tickets to a selection of plays that have yet to completely sell that night’s seats. Tickets are only valid for that night’s show and are never advertised. All sales must be purchased with cash, and are non-refundable. The best time to go is between 3pm and closing (5:30pm), when producers desperate to fill seats will call and authorize an allocation of tickets to go on sale at Halftix. The spontaneity of this resource provides a lottery of culture and can lead to some great discoveries. Those who go with an open mind are rarely disappointed. Halftix also sell inexpensive day trips to parts of Victoria like the Grampians or Great Ocean Road. It is well worth regular visits.
The Age A2
The Age’s weekend arts and culture lift-out section is a great source of information on plays and production that are coming to Melbourne, or are currently on. Each weekend several productions will be reviewed, and feature stories frequently focus on upcoming shows or actors.