Oldest Movie Theaters

8 of the Oldest Movie Theaters Around the World

The oldest movie theaters in the world fight for the title. Many even claim to be older than they are in their advertising! However, these historic landmarks at the birthplaces of cinema deserve every credit in the world for turning a simple optical trick into an art that became a juggernaut consumer industry everywhere. Read on to learn about the 8 oldest movie theaters in the world.

8. Dunellen Theater

Year: 1911
Location: Dunellen, New Jersey
Main feature: The “Cinema Café”

photo source: Cinema Treasures

Movies came to New Jersey in 1911 with the Dunellen Theater. This theater may be old but there are no awards for continuous operation here! The Dunellen Theater flopped and closed several times before becoming a more secure investment. In addition to multiple closures and renames and renovations, the theater even had run-ins with the law when it violated the “Blue Laws,” which prohibited showing movies on Sundays.

The “talking equipment” of the sound films of the late 20s finally drew business. After investors set the Dunellen Theater up with the latest stuff, it managed to stick.


The Dunellen Theater also has what it calls the “Cinema Café,” which sets it apart. In addition to first-run feature films from the major studios, the theater also shows live stage acts in the café. They even serve meals and host parties.

7. The Scenic Theater

Year: 1911
Location: Lisbon, North Dakota
Main feature: Over a century of continuous use

photo source: Cinema Treasures

The Scenic Theater has been renovated many times since it played silent films in 1911. However, unlike some theaters on this list, despite the modern movies on its screen, the Scenic Theater tries to keep the décor retro.

It is billed as the oldest continuously running theater in the United States, but we’re not sure how they define that since we found older theaters for this list. Still, with so much heritage, they earn the right to be a little cheeky with their definitions!


The theater has been renovated and now seats 200 people. However, the popcorn machine has not been replaced since the 1940s. It doesn’t get much more classic than that.

6. Priest Theater

Year: 1910
Location: High Springs, Florida
Main feature: Oldest continuously operating theater in Florida

photo source: Cinema Treasures

The Priest Theater is a free-standing, unassuming brick building in the middle of relatively nowhere in the High Springs Historic District in Florida. You can still view movies there in the original tiny space, though the owners have changed hands many times (it was bought by MGM in 1953).


The theater was built by William Jefferson Priest, who named it after himself. He also owned the Priest Ford Motor car dealership. Back then, movies weren’t considered an art form but a utility like car manufacturing, so it makes sense.

5. Kino Pionier

Year: 1909
Location: Szczecin, Poland
Main feature: The Guinness World Record for the oldest cinema

Kino Pionierphoto source: Cinema Treasures

The Kino Pionier Cinema in Szczecin, Poland has the Guinness World Record for being the oldest cinema in the world. It was opened and named the Helios Cinema in 1909, in what was then Stettin, Germany. You can still view movies there today.

The historical theater room is complete with armchairs and plays classic, artful films. They are all shown in original languages with Polish subtitles, making the films not only accessible to lovers of film that want to enjoy the movies as they were intended but also for tourists. In most places, you could not see a film on vacation and see it in your native language.


Below the historical theater room, Kino Pionier has the “Kiniarnia” two floors down. It features a smaller movie screen, a wine bar, and classy sit-down tables for a completely different movie-viewing experience. They even have a classic projector that plays the films and an 1898 piano.

4. Cinéma du Panthéon

Year: 1907
Location: Paris, France
Main feature: The oldest movie theater in Paris

photo source: Cinema Treasures

The Cinéma du Panthéon sits in the beautiful center of the Latin Quarter of Paris, called the Panthéon. It has been operating since 1907. In 1929, Pierre Braunberger bought it and that was when it really became an independent film powerhouse. Braunberger, if you didn’t know, is royalty in the French Nouvelle Vague. He’s the one who discovered Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, and others.

As an advocate for the French New Wave, Braunberger used the Cinéma du Panthéon as a focal point for his vision of a collective appreciation of cinema artistry.

This is why he began showing foreign films subtitled, with audio from their original languages. It may not seem like much now but films were rarely shown this way in the last century. They were far more often edited and dubbed for “appropriateness” in their new intended regions, a process called localization. To Braunberger and many other cinema lovers, this actually made the great art of cinema more inaccessible because people didn’t even know what the films were supposed to be.


The Cinéma du Panthéon in addition to its theater room is a living room-like “salon” area that was designed in 2006 by the French New Wave icon, Catherine Deneuve. She was the actress that gave life to incredible European films, particularly in the 1960s, such as Bunuel’s Belle du Jour, Polanski’s Repulsion, and Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

3. Plaza 1907 Cinema

Year: 1907
Location: Ottawa, Kansas
Main feature: The oldest purpose-built cinema still running

photo source: Atlas Obscura

By “purpose-built cinema,” the Plaza 1907 Cinema claims the right to be called the oldest movie theatre that was built as a movie theatre, rather than a building or traditional theatre that already existed. It has been showing movies since 1907.

It was opened as the Bijou, then renamed the Crystal in 1910, and remodeled as Plaza in 1935. It had only one screen until the 1980s when it upgraded to two. It closed during the Great Depression, meaning that it can’t claim “continuous operation” records. But it has only ever been used to show movies.


The original movie stage has been turned into a double-decker museum celebrating movie memorabilia. Some of the more interesting pieces are an original Edison Kinetoscope and a script draft of Revenge of the Jedi, which is what 1983’s Return of the Jedi was originally called.

2. Cinéma Eden Théâtre

Year: 1899
Location: La Ciotat on the Côte d’Azur, France
Main feature: The birth of independent cinema screenings

Cinéma Eden Théâtrephoto source: Atlas Obscura

The Cinéma Eden Théâtre opened in 1899 at La Ciotat on the Côte d’Azur in Southern France. It is still showing movies in its now-25,000-strong theatre room. Independent cinemas are under pressure in France and throughout the world, but the Cinéma Eden Théâtre represents the birth of independent film showings.

The Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, selected the first films shown at the Cinéma Eden Théâtre on 21 March 1899. After all, they pioneered the technology that made it possible! Their “cinématographe” was the system that made motion picture projection a reality.

Beginning in 1895, the brothers showed their own short films in private (including the famous “train film,” L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat) and began giving public, paid showings as early as that. These were technically the first public film screenings and are regarded as the birth of cinema as an art, a technology, an industry, everything.

However, the buildings they showed those early films in, including their own home, were not theaters built for that purpose. Therefore, we didn’t fudge the definition to include those homes and tents on this list as “theaters.”


The Cinéma Eden Théâtre showed its first films just 10 days before the Eiffel Tower opened to its first guests ever on 31 March 1899.

1. State Theatre

Year: 1897
Location: Washington, Iowa
Main feature: The oldest continuously operating movie theater

State Theatrephoto source: Cinema Treasures

The State Theatre on East Washington Street in Washington, Iowa is the oldest continuously operating movie theatre in the world. It opened in 1897 as The Graham Opera House with tickets as low as 15 cents a person, which was actually kind of high!

It is still popular today, playing even modern movies in 2D and 3D for a mostly older crowd, with a remodeled concessions area and balcony.


The State Theatre has had renovations following a 2010 fire that rebuilt the façade to look more like the 1940s when the theatre was in its heyday. A cigarette in a trashcan lit the highly flammable projection room.

The Takeaway

The oldest movie theaters remain important historical attractions that bring tourists and locals to the birthplaces of cinema year after year. From the oldest little movie houses in the American Midwest to the most venerated cinema palaces in Paris, these 8 old theaters represent the most classic ways for people to view movies.
What’s been your most incredible cinema experience?



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