The lights dim and the curtains start to open. There’s a soft crunch of popcorn and the projector beams brightly through the dust in the air. It’s starting!

The magic of cinema has caught us all. There’s something special about being part of an audience, sitting in darkness and watching a film on the big screen. But how often do you go?

Sometimes, the big multiplex experience can feel a little impersonal. No multiplex bashing here - they arguably saved cinema-going in the 1980s – but there’s more than one way to enjoy a night at the movies.

Home, Manchester

HOME, Manchester

We have to start with HOME. HOME is the multi-million pound, purpose-built art, film and drama complex at 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester. For those that loved the Cornerhouse, HOME is what the Cornerhouse aspired to be but never had the capacity to become.

HOME has five state-of-the-art cinemas but what really makes HOME special is its global outlook and appetite for diversity. New releases; restored classics; cult favourites; foreign-language releases; short films; arthouse oddities, documentaries; Q&As with directors; digital or analogue projection; silent, stereo or 7.1 sound: HOME has it all.

It’s the heart of international independent cinema in Manchester and worthy of any film-loving city.

The Savoy, Heaton Moor

Rescued, refurbished and re-opened in 2015, The Savoy is a proudly independent ‘boutique’ cinema. That means it offers more than just fizzy drinks and popcorn and loves to make a special event out of screenings. For example, a screening of The Big Lebowski offered a free White Russian to anyone wearing a dressing gown. Needless to say, there were lots of dressing gowns.

The Savoy screens all the latest films and blockbusters and has family-friendly weekend matinees. It has a cleverly varied programme that includes art films, documentaries and even live broadcasts from the National Theatre, RSC or the Bolshoi.

The building itself is an original, single screen cinema that first opened in 1923. It’s largely unchanged apart from the snacks on offer and the state-of-the-art projection and sound system. It’s now run as a family business, for the love of cinema and for the community and members that helped to save it.

Regent Cinema, Marple

The Regent opened as a cinema in 1931 and has been (pretty much) running ever since. With reasonable prices, red velour interior, seating in the Circle (comfier) or the Stalls (cheaper) and even an interval with ice cream, Regent Cinema is a classic ‘going to the pictures’ experience.

But it’s not all nostalgia and Pearl & Dean advertising. The Regent is a living, breathing independent cinema that’s as in love with film as it was when it opened. It has a single screen set up but they screen most of the latest titles. They often show bigger name films a few weeks after release or for a few weeks at a time. Check their website for details.

At the time of writing, there’s no online booking but tickets can be reserved over the phone (0161 427 5951, 6-10pm on weekdays). Or, you can just go on the night and queue up at the box office. Classic.

The Plaza, Stockport

Since it opened in 1932, The Plaza must’ve screened countless cliff hangers where the hero or heroine were saved from doom, just in time. But perhaps the Plaza’s greatest drama was its own. On the verge of dereliction, the Plaza was bought by enthusiasts in 2000. Years of campaigning and lots of hard work later, the Plaza is restored to its glorious art deco best.

The Plaza is also a theatre and venue for touring acts, but cinema is in its blood. Check out their listings for upcoming screenings.

Everyman, Altrincham

The new kid on the block, the Everyman in Altrincham opened in November 2018. They’re actually a national chain but they’re trying to redefine cinema-going and they’re gaining a lot of fans. Watching movies at an Everyman is a luxury experience with as much attention paid to the food, drink and waiter service as the films being screened. It may not be cheap but it promises to be special.

Manchester and Salford Film Society, Altrincham

Established in 1930, Manchester & Salford Film Society is the UK’s longest-running film society. Their monthly screenings take place at the very pleasant Altrincham Little Theatre and are free for members (just £39 per year – absolute bargain!) or £5 for guests (all welcome).

Members choose the films to be screened each season and titles can be plucked from anywhere in the world or from any period of cinema history. Seriously, check out their current season. It’s all about finding the best in thought-provoking cinema and sharing a love of film with like-minded people. Here’s to the next 88 years!

Small World Cinema Club (SWCC), Northern Quarter

Based at The Foundation Coffee House on Lever Street in Manchester, SWCC is a small pop-up cinema with screenings on the first Tuesday of every month. There’s only space for around 30 people per evening so if there’s such thing as a micro-cinema, this is it.

If you’re nervous about film clubs, SWCC just isn’t that kind of club. You don’t have to join and you can just watch the film and leave. No degree in film studies required! But for those who like to chat, before or after the film, SWCC is dedicated to bringing people together and making quality independent cinema accessible to everyone.

Moston Small Cinema

Moston isn’t first on the list when people think of cinemas in Manchester, but Moston Small Cinema deserves a special mention. Part of the Miners Community Art & Music Centre, Moston Small Cinema is a credit to all the volunteers that built it out of a derelict working men’s club with donated materials. They built something out of nothing, literally.

Don’t expect all the regular films to be shown here. Screenings are a little irregular but they always try to make them special. And for such a small cinema, they’ve had names like Ken Loach and Maxine Peake supporting their cause with special appearances and Q&As.

Manchester Film Festival

Manchester Film Festival has an open, honest and transparent ethos. It strives to be a unique and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for this approach amongst filmmakers. The festival usually takes place in early March, with a full programme of feature films, docs, shorts, animation, music videos, experimental and student films from the northwest and around the world. The next Sundance? Maybe. Check their site for details.

Kinofilm Festival

The Manchester International Short Film & Animation Festival (to give it it’s full title!) has been around for 20+ years. It’s done a great job of supporting emerging talent in the northwest and bringing the work of established names to screens in different venues in Manchester. Aside form the festival, they also host monthly short film screenings called Kino Shorts. Check their website for details.

Bolton Film Festival

In October each year, Bolton Film Festival puts on three days of international short films, industry talks and masterclasses. It’s a celebration of the creativity and variety of the short film format and it culminates in an awards ceremony on the final night. The festival patron? None other than Maxine Peake.