Watching movies is one of Singaporeans’ favourite pastimes, along with dining and shopping. A nation of avid movie-goers, the locals have been going to cinemas for movies for more than a century! In 2009 alone, the cinema attendance was as high as 19 million.
One Century Ago
In 1902, the first public screening took place at a tent in an open space between River Valley Road and Hill Street. Two years later saw the opening of the first ever movie theatre in Singapore. It was the Paris Cinema at Victoria Street. Subsequently two other theatres also opened at North Bridge Road and Bidadari Road at about the same period.
By 1906, Beach Road had a theatre named “La France”. The famous Alhambra Theatre was built at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road a year later. The concentration of theatres at Beach Road in the next few decades prompted the area to be dubbed as “the place of cinemas”.
The 20s And 30s
Two prominent cinemas were built at New Bridge Road of Chinatown in the late 1920s, namely the Oriental Theatre and the Majestic Theatre. Majestic Theatre started off as a Cantonese opera theatre, before being converted into a cinema in 1938.
The first golden period of cinemas in Singapore occurred in the 1930s, when more than nine cinemas sprung up from Dhoby Ghaut to Katong, including Cathay, Capitol, Marlborough, Palacegay, Pavilion, Roxy, Surina, Tivoli and Wembly.
The Japanese Occupation
During the Japanese Occupation, western films were banned and many large cinemas, such as Capitol, Oriental and Majestic, were occupied by the invading forces. Renamed in Japanese names, they were then used to screen Japanese propaganda flicks in an attempt to justify their invasion of Asia.
After the War
The movie industry thrived after the war. Established giants such as Shaw Organisation and Cathay Organisation expanded their cinema empires aggressively. They would be later joined by another prominent player in Eng Wah.
The Cinema Kings
Lim Chong Pang (1904-1956), surprisingly, was a notable contributor in the local movie industry. As a member of the Singapore Rural Board, he was aware of the importance of entertainment needs for the residents. When his father Lim Nee Soon passed away in 1936, Lim Chong Pang took over and managed a number of cinemas in Singapore. By then, he became well-known as the “cinema king” of Sembawang. Two of the most prominent theatres under him were Sultan Theatre and Garrick Theatre (later known as Galaxy Cinema).
In the 1920s, two Shanghainese brothers Runme Shaw (1901-1985) and Run Run Shaw (1907-2014) arrived at Singapore to carve out a career, establishing the Shaw Organisation (邵氏院线) in 1924. With the success of their first cinema, the Empire Theatre at Tanjong Pagar, the Shaw Brothers began expanding aggressively into Malaya.
From silent movies to Chinese and Malay films, the Shaw Brothers owned more than 100 cinemas in much of Southeast Asia by the end of 1930s. The Second World War put a stop to their movie empire but the Shaws were able to make a stronger comeback after that.
By 1965, Shaw Organisation had the widest cinema network in Singapore, with 19 cinema halls and another 30 that were licensed to play their distributed movies. The twenty years between the sixties and eighties represented another golden period in Shaw Organisation’s famous Chinese kungfu movies.
Loke Wan Tho (1915-1964) was the founder of Cathay Organisation (国泰院线). Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1915, Loke Wan Tho was the ninth son of Loke Yew, the richest man in Malaya during the early 1900s. Despite inheriting his father’s mines and plantations, Loke Wan Tho’s interest was in movies. In 1935, he established Associated Theatres Ltd, and started building cinemas in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
At his peak, Loke Wan Tho’s company produced hundreds of Malay and Chinese movies, and owned cinema chains in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Loke Tho Wan was also credited for creating the golden era of Hong Kong movies from the fifties to sixties. In 1953, Associated Theatres Ltd was renamed as Cathay Organisation. Loke Wan Tho, however, died in a plane crash at Taiwan in 1964. He was only 49.
The founder of Eng Wah Organisation (荣华院线) Goh Eng Wah was born in 1923 at Muar, Malaysia. During the Second World War, he fled to Singapore. In 1945, at an age of only 21, Goh Eng Wah started a cinema with a friend at the Happy World Amusement Park. Called Victory Theatre, it screened many Japanese propaganda films. The success of his first venture encouraged him to acquire another cinema Happy Theatre soon after the war came to an end.
In 1968, Goh Eng Wah established Eng Wah Theatres Organisation Pte Ltd, bring countless Chinese movies from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the audience of Singapore. After the eighties, in an attempt to suit the taste of young Singaporeans, Eng Wah Organisation began to bring in films from Hollywood.
A much newer cinema operator compared to others, Golden Village (嘉华院线) came into prominence in May 1992 when they opened their first cinema Yishun 10, Asia’s first multiplex, at Northpoint Shopping Centre. Golden Village is a joint venture company between Australia’s Village Roadshow Limited and Hong Kong’s Orange Sky Golden Harvest, previously known as Golden Harvest. Golden Harvest, founded in 1970, was famous for its kungfu films starring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.
Then and Now
Over the years, the rising standards of movies also saw the increasing expectation of the cinemas by the movie-goers. The cinemas had gone from open air to air-conditioned; the films went from reels to digital to 3D. Even the habits of the movie-goers changed over time; they now prefer popcorn than kacang puteh.
Ushers would shone their torches onto the small paper tickets and directed the audience to their seats. Before the multiplex era, the screens were covered by curtains which would be then drawn partially during displays of advertisements and trailers. Only when the movies started would the curtains be drawn fully.
The local cinema industry had its golden era in the late seventies, but was hit by video piracy and recession in mid-eighties. The number slowly picked up again after the nineties, coincided with the comeback of Hong Kong films. Hollywood blockbusters, meanwhile, dominated the 2000s with their superior computer effects.
Vanished Cinemas and Theatres
The old cinemas each had their horrifying tales. Bug-infested seats, stained fabrics, dirty toilets or ghost stories were the common ones. But regardless of any era, the cinemas remained popular with the Singaporeans hungered for movie entertainment.
The list of Singapore’s old cinemas, most of them had already shut down, is arranged below in an alphabetical order. The newer cineplexes are not included.
Arcadia Cinema, East Coast Road (1920s)
Arcadia Cinema was one of the earliest cinemas in Singapore, opened by proprietor Wee Teow Beng. It was located at East Coast Road, showing English movies that were mainly catered to the upper class that lived around Tanjong Katong.
Alhambra Theatre, Beach Road (1907-1960s)
Opened in 1907 by motion picture industry pioneer Tan Cheng Kee at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road, Alhambra Theatre (新娱乐戏院) was built near the sea, decades before the land reclamation that now stretches the coastline 500m away. The site was then known as hai kee or seaside, where one could hear the waves crashing against the walls of the cinema during high tides.
Alhambra Theatre was bought by the Shaw Brothers in the 1930s, and became Singapore’s first cinema that was fully air-conditioned. During the fifties, the cinema was renamed as New Alhambra. Its name was changed again to Gala Theatre after being taken over by Cathay Organisation which gave the building a series of renovations. Its previous glory was revived when the original Satay Club was set up near the building, attracting crowds from all parts of Singapore.
Alhambra and Marlborough Theatres would later be demolished and replaced by the Shaw Towers in 1970 (see Jade Theatre and Prince Theatre).
Ang Mo Kio Cinema, Ang Mo Kio Central (1980s)
Part of the group of four cinemas at Ang Mo Kio central, Ang Mo Kio Cinema (宏茂桥戏院) was the smallest of all as well as the earliest to cease its operation. After its closure in the mid-eighties, the building was converted in what is known as Big Mac Centre today.
Bedok Cinema, Bedok Town Centre (1980-2006)
Cathay Organisation-owned Bedok Cinema (北斗戏院), standing next to Changi Theatre at Bedok Town Centre, used to screen Chinese and English films in the eighties and early nineties. It was opened in February 1080, screening Hong Kong actor Richard Ng’s Murder Most Foul on its debut day. The cinema was converted into Bedok 1 and Bedok 2 in 1990, after which it was leased to Golden Village temporarily.
An independent operator took over the cinema in 1996, specialising in Hindi and Tamil movies, until its closure a decade later. Together with Shaw Brothers’ Changi Theatre, it was then torn down and a brand new Bedok Point now stands in its place.
There were once four old cinemas at Bedok Town Centre, namely Bedok, Changi, Liwagu and Princess/Rajah. All four of them had ceased their operations by the end of 2000s.
Broadway Cinema, Ang Mo Kio Central (1980s-late 1990s)
Broadway Cinema (百乐汇戏院) was strategically located beside the popular Ang Mo Kio Central hawker centre in the nineties. Equipped with two halls, it was operated by the Cathay Organisation, followed by a brief period by Golden Village.
The building was sold for $9 million in 2000, and is now called Broadway Plaza.
Cathay Cinema (Old), Handy Road (1936-2000)
Cathay Cinema (国泰戏院), with its Cathay Hotel, was Singapore’s first skyscraper and the tallest building in Southeast Asia when it had its grand opening in 1936. More than one thousand fans packed into the cinema, Singapore’s first fully air-conditioned cinema, to catch the premier of “The Four Feathers”.
Due to the Second World War, Cathay Cinema was closed in 1942 to become a Red Cross station, in order to deal with the increasing number of injuries and casualties.
The Japanese occupied the building of Cathay Cinema during the war, controlling its broadcasting facilities. The notorious Japanese soldiers would display the heads of their victims outside the building, stuck on poles, in a bid to crush the fighting spirit of the locals.
After the war, Cathay Cinema reopened with the first post-war movie “The Tunisian Victory”, but it was not until 1948 before the building was taken back by its rightful owner Cathay Organisation.
In the next few decades, Cathay Organisation expanded the building and added Cathay Restaurant, Cathay Hotel and Cathay Apartments. In 1990, Cathay opened Singapore’s first arthouse cinema, The Picturehouse, within its premises. The last curtains of Cathay Cinema fell in 2000 as the building was redeveloped into a three-cinema cineplex. It finally reopened in 2006 as The Cathay.
Capitol Theatre, Stamford Road (1929-1998)
The premier picture house in Singapore in the early days, the Neo-Classical styled Capitol Theatre (首都戏院) was built in 1929 and mainly catered for the English movie fans. The Japanese occupied the building during the Second World War, using it as a media for their propaganda. It was renamed as Kyo-Ei Gekijo as Japanese films were screened.
After the war, the Shaw Organisation bought the premises and it became known as the Shaw Building until 1989. The curtains to the almost 70 years of showbiz were finally brought down in 1998 when the last movie was screened at Capitol Theatre.
Both Capitol Theatre and Capitol Building were given conservation status in July 2007.
Central Cinema, Jalan Eunos (1950s-1970s)
A small cinema called Central Cinema once stood along Jalan Eunos between the fifties and seventies.
Changi Cinema, New Upper Changi Road (1940s-1970s)
Not to be confused with the Changi Theatre at Bedok in the eighties and nineties, the old Changi Cinema had a history that went back to the 1940s. Located at the 14-1/2 milestone of Changi Road, the ownership of the cinema changed hands several times.
Changi Theatre, Bedok Town Centre (early 1980s-2000)
One of the four cinemas at Bedok central, the three-screen Changi Theatre (樟宜戏院) used to stand beside Bedok Cinema, facing New Upper Changi Road.
Owned by the Shaw Organisation, Changi Theatre started off as a single screen cinema, before being converted into three halls. It was Singapore’s first “triplex”, built at a cost of $2.5 million and equipped a total of 1150 seats.
However, due to the space constraints, the halls were small and cramped. Towards the late nineties, Changi Theatre struggled and eventually closed in 2000 due to poor attendance.
In late 2000s, together with Bedok Cinema, its building was demolished and replaced by Bedok Point Shopping Mall.
Chinatown Cinema, New Bridge Road (1990s)
In November 1990, the Shaw Organisation launched two cinema halls 1 and 2 (唐城戏院) at Chinatown Point, at a cost of $2 million.
Ciros Cinema, Telok Blangah Road (1970s-early 1980s)
A small cinema along Telok Blangah Road that mainly showed Hindi movies, Shaw Organisation-owned Ciros Cinema (仙乐戏院) was leased to Christian Community Chapel in 1983. The building was later demolished and replaced by Grace Methodist Church since April 1998.
Clementi/Commonwealth Theatre, Clementi Town Centre (1980s)
Standing at an excellent location in front of Commonwealth Avenue West and Clementi MRT Station, Clementi/Commonwealth Theatre (金文泰/联邦戏院) had enjoyed good crowds during the eighties.
In the later part of the eighties, it faced competition from the nearby Eng Wah-owned Empress Cinema. After shutting down, the building became karaoke haven Party World, before converting again to a small shopping mall called CityVibe.
Dalit Theatre, Bukit Merah Town Centre (1981-late 1990s)
Dalit Theatre (达利戏院) and Regal Theatre were the only two cinemas at Bukit Merah central; both of them facing the busy Jalan Bukit Merah. While Regal Theatre screened mainly Chinese movies, Dalit specialised in Tamil films.
Dalit received its first Public Entertainment License in 1981. The building was revamped in 1998 to be used as a theatre for the non-profit charitable Christian organisation TOUCH Community Services.
Da Dong Ya Cinema, Upper Bukit Timah Road (1942-1946)
At the start of the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), two Hokchia businessmen of surnames Yuan and Yan sought approval from the Japanese authorities to set up an amusement park at the seventh milestone of Upper Bukit Timah Road. The name chosen was, unfortunately, Da Dong Ya (大東亞) or Greater East Asia, after the Japanese’s propaganda claim of achieving a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亞共栄圈).
The open air cinema at Da Dong Ya Amusement Park mainly screened Japanese propaganda flicks or old Chinese films. Locals living nearby and Japanese soldiers patronised the park with 20c banana currency as entry fees. After the war, the park’s popularity declined and was soon replaced by the construction of Beauty World Market in 1947.
Diamond Theatre, North Bridge Road (1947-1977)
Diamond Theatre was part of the five cinemas located at around North Bridge Road between the fifties and seventies; the other four being Royal, Capitol, Odeon and Jubilee.
Like Royal Theatre, Diamond Theatre specialised in Tamil Movies. It was a $250,000 joint venture between Indian jeweller Kassim Mohamed Oli Mohamed (died 1988) and Cathay Organisation’s founder Loke Wan Tho (1915-1964).
In the fifties, Diamond Theatre was plagued by fire hazards, which cost it hundreds of thousands in damages and restoration. Out-competed by other cinemas by the mid-seventies, Diamond Theatre finally ended its business in November 1977, after three decades. The land that it occupied was acquired by the government, and the building was demolished two years later for the building of Blanco Court Resettlement Centre.
East Shore Cinema, Stadium Walk (1990s)
Formerly known as Leisure-Drome (乐心宫戏院), East Shore Cinema (东滨戏院) was owned by Cathay Organisation in the nineties. After it upgraded to three halls (East Shore 1, 2 and 3), it received its first Public Entertainment License in 1994.
The premises is now known as Kallang Leisure Park.
Empire Theatre, Neil Road (1916-undetermined)
Opened in 1916 at the junction of Tanjong Pagar Road, South Bridge Road and Neil Road, the Empire Theatre was then a wooden cinema owned by proprietor T. S. Kung, who targeted the residents of Tanjong Pagar, Keppel Harbour and Pasir Panjang.
Able to accommodate 900 seated audience on wooden chair, the theatre mainly screened silent American films. On its opening night, T. S. Kung showed his generosity by donating the day income to British Red Cross Fund.
In 1926, the cinema was leased to the Shaw Brothers for a hefty $2,000 a month.
Empress Cinema, Clementi Town Centre (1980s-2010)
Owned by Eng Wah Organisation, Empress Cinema (华声戏院) had been a landmark at Clementi central for more than three decades. In 1993, the cinema was given a revamp, with the theatre being upgraded into three halls named Empress 1, 2 and 3.
It ceased its operation in 2010, and the building was demolished by mid-2012. The site is expected to be reborn as a brand new cinema after the complete makeover of Clementi Town Centre, scheduled in 2013.
Eng Wah Cinemas, various locations (1980s-Present)
In the eighties, Eng Wah Organisation had an open air cinema at Holland Village.
After the mid-nineties, Eng Wah Organisation started to venture aggressively into the new towns. It opened a branch of its cinemas at Paris Ris Central when White Sands Shopping Centre opened in 1996. However, due to the lack of human traffic at the relatively new town at the far eastern part of Singapore, the cinema was shut down at the end of the nineties.
The 1200-seat 6-screen Eng Wah cinema at Sun Plaza was the main source of entertainment for the residents of Sembawang when it was opened in 1998. It closed in 2009 after a decade of operation.
The Eng Wah cinemas at Suntec and West Mall (Bukit Batok), both opened in 1998, are still in operation.
Gala Cinema, Upper Bukit Timah Road (late 1970s-mid 1990s)
There was an old cinema called Gala Cinema (嘉宾戏院) at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. Operated by Eng Wah Organisation, it screened a mixture of Tamil and Chinese movies, and was popular among the local residents and the Malaysian tourists during the eighties.
With the aging Bukit Timah Shopping Centre experiencing a significant drop in the human traffic, the cinema was forced to shut down in the mid-nineties.
Gala Theatre, Beach Road
See Alhambra Theatre.
Galaxy Cinema (formerly Apollo/Garrick Theatre), Onan Road (1930s-1980s)
Located at the junction of Geylang Road and Onan Road, Galaxy Cinema was part of the The Galaxy, a movie-cum-shopping centre that largely served the Muslim community at Joo Chiat. Other than Malay films, it also screened Chinese movies with English and Malay subtitles added.
Galaxy Cinema was formerly known as Apollo Theatre in the 1930s. It was taken charge by Lim Chong Pang, son of Lim Nee Soon, who renamed it as Garrick Theatre. Before the Second World War, Garrick Theatre was one of the most prominent cinemas in Singapore.
It is now known as the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore.
Golden City Theatre, Margaret Drive (1965-1984)
There were three cinemas at Margaret Drive of Queenstown in the eighties, namely Venus, Golden City and Queenstown/Queensway.
Both Venus Theatre (金都戏院) and Golden City Theatre (金城戏院) specialised in Taiwanese horror movies and gongfu flicks. The cinemas were proposed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) as early as 1958, but were originally planned to be built at Dundee Road.
After the Housing Development Board (HDB) took over from SIT, it built the twin cinemas at Margaret Drive to cater for the entertainment needs of the residents at Duchess Estate.
The locations of both cinemas are now occupied by the churches of The Fisherman of Christ Fellowship and Church of Our Saviour.
Golden Sultan Theatre, Jalan Sultan (1981-early 2000s)
Cathay Organisation’s Golden Sultan Theatre (金皇戏院) was formerly located along Jalan Sultan, off Beach Road. Its premises at Sultan Plaza is now occupied by a nightclub.
Golden Theatre, Golden Mile Tower (1970s-Present)
Situated in the Golden Mile Tower at Beach Road, Golden Theatre (黄金戏院) was opened in the early seventies, screening mainly Chinese movies until the nineties. Three halls, named Golden 1, Golden 2 and Golden Studio, were later added in a bid to restore the faltering business of the cinema.
For a period of time, Golden Theatre showed erotic films but has now switched to Hindi and Tamil blockbusters from India’s Bollywood and Kollywood.
Great World Cinemas, Kim Seng Road (1958-1978)
Great World Amusement Park was developed in the 1930s by Lee Choon Yung on a site bounded by Kim Seng Road, River Valley Road and Zion Road. Just before the Second World War, he sold the land to the Shaw Brothers.
After the war, Shaw upgraded the park and had it reopened in 1958. Its popularity soared, with people flocked to the park for food, circus shows, carnival rides and cinemas. The four theatres at Great World were Canton (广东戏院), Atlantic (大西洋戏院), Sky (青天戏院) and Globe (环球戏院).
Screening a mixture of Chinese, Cantonese and Western films, the cinemas would outlast Great World even after it shut down in March 1964. They would survive together with the restaurants until 1978, when the Shaw Organisation sold the land to Malaysia’s Robert Kuok.
Movie-watching at Great World was a considerably luxurious pastime for many, where the price of movie tickets in the sixties was 50c. During the screening of Chinese blockbusters, long queues could stretch to as far as the Kim Seng Bridge. Fans would get up early at 5am to join in the queues.
Happy/Gay World Cinemas, Mountbatten Road (1945-2000)
When Happy World was set up between Geylang Road and Mountbatten Road in 1936, it was an amusement park filled with various entertainment such as boxing matches and film-screening, where Victory Theatre was its main cinema.
Victory Theatre was set up by Goh Eng Wah, the founder of Eng Wah Organisation, in 1945. It was highly popular even though it screened many Japanese propaganda films during the end of the Second World War.
With the success of his initial investment of Victory Theatre (胜利戏院), Goh Eng Wah expanded his business and acquired the nearby Happy Theatre (快乐戏院) and Silver City Theatre (银国戏院) after the war. Eng Wah Organisation’s cinemas at Happy World specialised in Chinese movies during the fifties and sixties.
Another cinema at Happy World was New Victory Theatre (新胜利戏院), a small cinema that exhibited Malay and Indonesian films during the late seventies.
The fifth cinema at Happy World, also the smallest, was New Happy Cinema (新快乐戏院). It started to show Tamil films exclusively in 1982, and when all three Eng Wah cinemas closed down by 1987, New Happy Cinema continued to struggle until the late nineties.
Happy World was renamed as Gay World in 1966 and closed down in 2000 as the last of the three popular amusement parks, the other being New World and Great World. Together with Gay World Stadium (renamed as Geylang Indoor Stadium), it was demolished a year later.
Hollywood Theatre, Tanjong Katong Road (1959-1995)
Once famous for its screening of Chinese blockbuster flicks and the appearances of Hong Kong superstars Fung Bo Bo and Siao Fong Fong, Hollywood Theatre (好莱坞戏院) spanned for almost 40 years from the late fifties to mid-nineties.
After its closure in 1995, the building was leased to City Harvest Church for six years before the church moved to its permanent premises at Jurong West.
Hoover Theatre, Balestier Road (1960-1989, 1992-1996)
Hoover Theatre (豪华戏院) was an easy choice for fans of the Shaw Brothers’ gongfu films during the sixties and seventies. Opened in 1960, the 900-seat cinema mainly catered for the Chinese majority at Balestier, although it also screened English and Indian movies. The ticket prices ranged from $1 to $3.
With the decline of kungfu films in the eighties, Hoover Theatre was closed in December 1982 due to poor business. It, however, relaunched as Hoover Live Theatre a year later, but was used to hold live variety shows instead. In 1989, the building was leased to an independent church called His Sanctuary Services.
Hoover as a cinema was reborn once again in 1992 when the church did not renew its lease. The building was reopened as New Hoover Cinema, the first cinema in Singapore to screen classic Tamil, Sinhalese, Malayalam and Hindi films regularly.
After the cinema played its last Indian movie in 1996, the building was closed and demolished, together with President Theatre, for the construction of the new Shaw Plaza-Twin Heights. Opened in 1999, Shaw Plaza now comprises a six-screen cinema fitted with the latest digital sound systems called Balestier Cineplex.
Imperial Theatre, Upper Thomson Road (1970-1985)
Imperial Theatre (京都戏院) started operating its movie business at Upper Thomson Road since 1970. It was located beside the present-day Thomson Community Centre.
In the seventies, rows of old shops with zinc roofs lined up beside the cinema, and there were many stalls selling candies and toys to the movie-goers. By the mid-eighties, the cinema suffered a steep decline in its business and was forced to shut down. The building was temporarily used for worship services of Glory Joy Christian Church.
Today, the cinema is no longer around, and in its place stands Thomson Imperial Court. The word “Imperial” in its name is the only remnant of the former popular cinema.
Jade Theatre, Beach Road (1977-2008)
Jade Theatre (翡翠戏院) and Prince Theatre (太子戏院) were officially opened in 1977 by the Shaw Organisation at Shaw Towers, which was built much earlier in 1970 on the former sites of Alhambra and Marlborough Theatres.
In 1988, both theatres were expanded to two halls each, known as Jade 1 and Jade 2, and Prince 1 and Prince 2 respectively, under the new concept of cineplexes. The first movie to be screened at Prince was Jackie Chan’s Dragons Forever. In 1991, Jade 2 was converted into Jade Classic (新艺戏院) to cater for the niche art house audience.
In 1996, the cinemas at Shaw Towers were sold to the United Artists, which renamed the four halls into Grand Prince, Alhambra, Royal Jade and Emerald. The cinemas were later bought back by Shaw in 2001 before their closure seven years later.
Jalan Kayu Cinemas, Jalan Kayu (1960s-1980s)
There were previously a couple of small cinemas at Jalan Kayu between the sixties and the eighties. Screening mainly Chinese kungfu movies, the cinemas (永华戏院, 国华戏院, 星光戏院) provided a source of entertainment for the residents who were mostly farmers living around present-day Sengkang.
Jubilee Cinema, Ang Mo Kio Central (1979-2010)
A neighbourhood cinema at Ang Mo Kio Central owned by Eng Wah Organisation, Jubilee Cinema (光华戏院) was perhaps the smallest compared to Broadway and New Crown/New Town during the nineties. The name Jubilee might be derived from the famous Jubilee Theatre at North Bridge Road, also owned by Eng Wah Organisation and closed in the mid eighties.
The Ang Mo Kio residents would remember the small white building with Pizza Hut operating at the ground floor and Jubilee at the second level. The cinema was closed in December 2010.
Jubilee Theatre, North Bridge Road (1930s-1970s)
Opened in the 1930s beside Raffles Hotel, Jubilee Theatre (光华大戏院) was hugely popular in its early days. It was bought by Goh Eng Wah in 1966, two years before he established Eng Wah Theatres Organisation Pte Ltd.
The theatre was later demolished to make way for the extension of Raffles Hotel.
Raffles Hotel’s Victorian-styled theatre playhouse Jubilee Hall is named after this popular cinema of the early days.
Jurong Drive-In Cinema, Yuan Ching Road (1971-1985)
Opened by then Minister of Culture Jek Yeun Thong in July 1971 at Yuan Ching Road (near the Chinese and Japanese Garden), Jurong Drive-In Cinema (裕廊大影场) created a buzz among Singaporeans. It was a bold project by Cathay Organisation; the first of its kind in Singapore and Malaysia, and the largest in Asia.
When the nights fell, rows of cars were parked neatly, with their engines off, in front of a giant screen. There were poles with connecting speakers for the patrons sitting inside the cars. The experience was fresh to many, but the weather sometimes proved too much to bear, especially on humid nights or rainy days.
Nevertheless, the unique cinema was a success, which had raked in some S$12,000 in a single evening, its highest income in a day, during the screening of Bruce Lee’s Big Boss. Jurong Drive-In Cinema was closed in September 1985, and the space is now occupied by Palm Resort’s Fairway Club.
Kallang Theatre (Former), Stadium Walk (1970s-1986)
The largest commercial theatre in Southeast Asia in the seventies, Kallang Theatre (加冷戏院) was originally built as a cinema but was converted into a theatre for the arts in 1986 when the iconic National Theatre was demolished. Costing $15 million, Kallang Theatre was equipped with 100 speakers and 2400 seats segregated in four classes.
For two decades, it was used for international and local musicals and plays. The curtains came down on Kallang Theatre in 2007 when the performing arts venue was moved to Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay.
King’s Theatre, Kim Tian Road (1950s-early 1980s)
The King’s Theatre (璇宫戏院), a notable landmark at Kim Tian Road of Tiong Bahru during the sixties, mainly screened films in Amoy dialect (or Hokkien).
When the popularity of Amoy films declined in the late sixties, King’s Theatre was acquired by Goh Eng Wah in 1968 and managed to keep its business afloat by screening the upcoming Chinese films.
Kim Tian Road is now home to a housing estate.
Kok Wah Theatre, Yio Chu Kang Road (1960s-1980s)
There were once two small kampong cinemas at the junction of Upper Serangoon Road and Yio Chu Kang Road, fondly known as ow gang ngor kok jio, or Hougang five milestone. One of them was Kok Wah Theatre (国华戏院), which screened mainly Chinese, Cantonese and Teochew movies. The other was the English film-majority Mercury Theatre.
Between the sixties and eighties, the two cinemas were popular among the residents living at the nearby Chia Keng Village and Lim Tua Tow Road. After the cinemas were demolished, a building called Kovan Centre was built on their former sites. Kovan Centre itself was torn down in the late 2000s, and would be replaced by a new building called Space @Kovan, scheduled to be completed in 2016.
Kong Chian Cinema (also Central Cinema), Toa Payoh Central (1972-1987)
Kong Chian Cinema (光前戏院) was Toa Payoh’s first cinema, opened in 1972 by Cathay Organisation and located near the Toa Payoh library with its iconic fountains. During the eighties, it was one of the two cinemas at the new town of Toa Payoh, the other being Toa Payoh Cinema.
A typical small neighbourhood cinema which was later renovated and renamed as Central Cinema (中央戏院), Kong Chian Cinema screened mostly films from Hong Kong, China and even North Korea. After its closure in 1987, the building was sold to McDonald’s and is now called 600@Toa Payoh.
Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre, Chinatown (1970s-late 1990s)
Built at a cost of $100,000, Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre (牛车水人民剧场) was officially opened in March 1969, as a venue for performances of Chinese operas and the promotion of arts.
In the seventies, Cathay Organisation struck a deal to screen Hong Kong Cantonese movies at Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre. This lasted till the mid-nineties when Golden Village took over for a short period.
Today, Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre no longer screens movies, but functions as a community arts centre.
Liberty Theatre, Marine Parade Central (early 1980s-late 1980s)
Liberty Theatre (银国戏院) was opened at Marine Parade central in the early 1980s by the Shaw Organisation. It shut down at the end of the eighties and, like Dalit at Bukit Merah, the building was taken over by Christian organisation TOUCH Community Services.
Lido Cinema, Scotts Road (1959-Present)
It was only a barren piece of land with a lone Esso petrol station at the junction of Scotts Road and Orchard Road when the Shaw Brothers acquired it in 1952.
By 1958, the construction of Shaw House and the old Lido Cinema were completed, and were officially opened in November 1958 and February 1959 respectively. From the fifties to the eighties, the 1602-seat cinema remained one of the most popular cinemas in Singapore, and was one of the venues in town to hold charitable events.
The old Lido Cinema underwent a long revamp in 1996 to be converted into a eight-screen cineplex. In 2011, after another $20 million makeover, the new Lido Theatre was reopened to the delight of its fans.
Liwagu Cinema, Bedok Town Centre (1982-late 1990s)
One of the four cinemas at Bedok Town Centre in the eighties, the building of Liwagu Cinema (丽华宫戏院) was built in 1980. It started to operate its movie business in 1982 after receiving its Public Entertainment License.
After its closure, local S-league football club Geylang United moved in. In the early 2000s, the building, owned by Eagle Crest Plaza, was mortgaged to Taiwan’s First Commercial Bank, who then sought a $7.5 million sale of the building in 2003.
Majestic Theatre, Eu Tong Sen Street (1928-1998)
Built in 1928 by prominent Chinese merchant Eu Tong Sen (1877-1941) for his Cantonese opera-loving wife, the building was designed by then leading architectural firm Swan and Maclaren and was originally known as Tien Yien Moh Toi Theatre (天演舞台).
The Shaw Organisation bought it in 1938 to convert into a cinema, called Queen’s Theatre (皇后戏院), for screening of the Cantonese blockbusters. It also functioned as a venue for fund raising to aid China in the Sino Japanese War before the full-scale Second World War. During the Japanese Occupation, it was renamed as Ta He Ju Chang (大和剧场) to be used for spreading the propaganda of Japanese rule.
After the war, the Shaw Organisation leased the building again, and gave it a new name as Palace Talkies. The name Majestic Theatre (大华戏院) was used when the new tenant The Majestic Film Company moved in. The Eu family sold the building to Cathay Organisation for a hefty $1.1 million in 1956, and the cinema maintained its popularity throughout the years until its closure in 1998.
In 2003, the building was converted into a shopping mall known as The Majestic, but it could only last four years before it ceased its operation.
Mandarin Theatre, Kallang Bahru (1975-2000)
Mandarin Theatre (文华戏院) was one of Eng Wah Organisation’s ventures into the heartlands of Singapore, along with Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh, during the late seventies. It was situated at the junction of Kallang Bahru and Geylang Bahru.
In 2011, local supermarket Sheng Siong intended to rent the premises but the application to covert the former theatre into a supermarket and food court was rejected by HDB.
Recently, the building of the former cinema was given a fresh coat of paint and is currently undergoing some renovation, suggesting that it may be reopened for other commercial purposes. The vacated building has been on sale since 2008.
Marlborough Theatre, Beach Road (1930s-1960s)
Opened in the 1930s by the Shaw Brothers, Marlborough Theatre (曼舞罗戏院) was situated beside Alhambra Theatre along Beach Road.
The fifties and sixties were perhaps the golden era for Marlborough Theatre, where the popularity of the area was helped by the strategic locations of the original Satay Club at nearby Hoi How Road (now defunct) and the bus depot of Tay Koh Yat (郑古悦 1880-1957) Bus Company.
Mercury Theatre, Yio Chu Kang Road (1960s-1980s)
Mercury Theatre coexisted with Kok Wah Theatre at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Serangoon Road from the sixties to the eighties. (See Kok Wah Theatre)
Metropole Theatre, Tanjong Pagar Road (1958-1986)
The former building of the famous Metropole Theatre (金华戏院) has been standing at the junction of Tanjong Pagar Road and Neil Road, just opposite the popular Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, for more than half a century.
Metropole Theatre had been a popular cinema for Chinese movie fans from the sixties to eighties. Well-known Hong Kong actress Nancy Sit Ka Yin (薛家燕) made guest appearances at Metropole in 1967 to promote her two latest films.
In 1986, the building’s new owner spent $2.75 million to convert the place of entertainment into a place of worship. It became known as the Fairfield Methodist Church.
New City Theatre, Aljunied Avenue 2 (early 1950s-1985)
New City Theatre (新城戏院) was situated within Geylang East Town Centre, catering for the residents living in the old neighbourhood of Aljunied. In its thirty years of existence, It had seen tremendous changes in its surroundings, as the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) was built just behind its building in the late seventies.
New City Theatre was closed in mid-eighties, taken over by the church of Bethel Assembly of God. In 2010, the old building was demolished to make way for the new multi-functional building of the church.
New Crown/New Town Cinema, Ang Mo Kio Central (1990s)
The twin cinemas of New Crown/New Town (皇冠/皇城戏院) were one of the four main cinemas at Ang Mo Kio central, where its peak was during the nineties.
After the cinema ceased its operation, the space within the building was leased to restaurants and arcade game shops. It once housed the popular Korean-styled buffet restaurant Seoul Garden. The building became known as New Crown Building but was razed to the ground by mid-2012, where a new mall is expected to be completed in a year’s time.
New World Cinemas, Jalan Besar (1960s-early 1980s)
Like Happy World and Great World, New World Park, the first of the three famous amusement parks in Singapore, also had a number of cinemas as one of its attractions to the crowds. The cinemas of Grand (大光戏院), Pacific (太平洋戏院) and State (新都戏院) were filled with people every weekend during its peak.
New World was set up by Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock in 1923, before being sold to the Shaw Brothers before the Second World War. The amusement park arguably had its golden period from the fifties to the seventies.
By early eighties, the park went into a rapid decline, not helped by the closure of Grand and Pacific Theatres, which were converted to churches temporarily. The Shaw Organisation eventually sold the land to City Development in 1987.
Ocean Theatre, Upper East Coast Road (early 1960s-1985)
When Ocean Theatre (海洋戏院) operated at Upper East Coast Road between the sixties and eighties, it showed a large variety of Malay, Tamil, English and Mandarin movies.
After its closure in 1986, the premises was converted into a 20-stall Ocean Food Centre, but its business lasted for only a couple of years.
Odeon Theatre, North Bridge Road (1953-1984)
The large 1,500-seat Odeon Theatre (奥迪安戏院), owned by Cathay Organisation, was situated opposite Raffles Hotel and Jubilee Theatre at North Bridge Road between the sixties and seventies.
Opened in June 1953, Odeon was a modern theatre by the standards of that era. Its building was equipped with a basement carpark, a fully air-conditioned cinema and eight dressing rooms. It even had a room for parents to comfort their crying babies, so as not to disturb the audience during the screening of movies.
Odeon Theatre was closed in June 1984, after some thirty years of operation. Today, Odeon Towers stands in its site, with its name the only remnant left of this once glorious cinema.
Above is the 1980 map of where Odeon Theatre was located. Jubilee Theatre at Raffles Hotel was not around anymore, while Jade and Prince Theatres at Shaw Towers had just made their debuts.
Odeon-Katong Theatre, East Coast Road (1960-1993)
Odeon-Katong Theatre (加东-奥迪安戏院) was one of the cinemas in Singapore owned by Cathay Organisation, running both Chinese and English movies. Between the sixties and eighties, it was part of Katong’s famous three cinemas; the other two being Roxy and Paradise.
The building of Odeon-Katong Theatre was later used for worship services by Bethesda Cathedral and is now mainly occupied by Cornerstone Community Church.
Orchard Cinema, Grange Road (1965-1995)
In the first year of Singapore’s independence, Cathay Organisation opened their second premier cinema after Cathay Cinema. It was the Orchard Cinema (国宾戏院) at Grange Road. The building also included a 24-lane Jackie’s Bowl (later renamed as Orchard Bowl).
Orchard Cinema was closed in 1995 for redevelopment. It took two years before Cathay Cineleisure Orchard was completed at the site of Orchard Cinema.
Oriental Theatre (Palacegay), New Bridge Road (1927-1960s)
Originally known as the Palacegay, Oriental Theatre (东方戏院) was the first cinema in Singapore to screen Chinese movies with sound when it was opened in 1927. Before Oriental Theatre, only silent films were shown.
Oriental Theatre was renamed as Toho Gekizyo during the Japanese Occupation. After the war, the Shaw Brothers bought it and name it as Oriental Theatre. The Oriental Plaza, owned by the Shaw Organisation, still bears the name of this once popular cinema at Chinatown.
Paradise Cinema (or Palace Theatre), East Coast Road (1965-1992)
Paradise Cinema (新海燕戏院), also named Palace Theatre (丽宫戏院) or Palace Centre, was located at the junction of East Coast Road and Brooke Road. From the sixties to the eighties, it was one of the three cinemas at Katong; Odeon-Katong and Roxy being the other two.
In the seventies, Paradise Cinema, owned by Cathay Organisation, was sold to Chong Gay Group. In 1989, the cinema was chosen to be one of the cinemas in Singapore to screen the best selling Taiwanese film, starring several Golden Horse Award winners, from the Taiwan Film Festival.
By the early nineties, the cinema ended its movie business and the premises was converted into a venue for live performances, named Sin Kim Kok Theatre. Today, the Eastgate Building stands in its former site.
Paramount Theatre, Portchester Avenue (1962-1983)
The Paramount Theatre (百乐门戏院) at Serangoon Gardens was more than a cinema during its heydays. It was also used as a venue for Christian prayer services and fund-raising.
When the cinema shuttered in 1983, the Paramount building went through numerous transformations in a bid to catch up with the pace of development. It became the first cinema in Singapore to be converted into a supermarket when popular retailer Fitzpatrick’s spent $1.1 million to renovate the leased premises as its eighth branch.
After its demolition, its site was occupied by Serangoon Gardens Village for more than a decade. Today myVillage @Serangoon Garden takes its place.
Paris Cinema, Victoria Street (1904-undetermined)
Paris Cinema (巴黎戏院) was considered as Singapore’s first ever cinema, built in 1904 by an Indian jewellery company.
Pavilion Cinema, Tampines Central (1993-early 2000s)
Pavilion Cinema (东艺戏院) was the first cinema to be opened in the new town of Tampines. Owned by Cathay Organisation, it opened in 1993 and closed in early 2000s. Tampines 1 Shopping Mall now stands in its former site.
Pavilion Theatre, Orchard Road (1920s-1950s)
Opened in the 1920s, Pavilion Theatre was originally known as the Paladium Theatre. Its location at the old Orchard Road was where the Specialists’ Shopping Centre previously stood.
The cinema was part of successful local Jewish businessman Joseph Aaron Elias’ (1881-1949) business empire.
After the Second World War, Pavilion Theatre was bought by the Shaw Organisation, which experimented with the smoking ban, making the air-conditioned cinema one of the first in Singapore to impose such a rule.
In 1954, Pavilion Theatre went on the national news after its manager was prosecuted for pocketing the cinema’s daily income.
Peking Theatre, Pipit Road (1960s)
Peking Theatre was once an old small open-air cinema at MacPherson.
Picturehouse, Cathay Building (1990-2000)
A small extension was added to the Cathay building in 1990, housing a restaurant and a small cinema named Picturehouse. It was used to screen global art films initially, but it would go on to include Hollywood blockbusters in the later times. Picturehouse, together with the old Cathay building, was demolished after 2000 for redevelopment.
Plaza Theatre, Jalan Sultan (late 1970s-1995, 1999-2000s)
Eng Wah Organisation-owned Plaza Theatre (光辉戏院) was once located on the seventh floor of the Textile Centre beside Sultan Plaza. It used to screen English and Chinese movies.
After its closure, it was used briefly by a church as a venue for worship services. In 1999, the cinema made a comeback, switching its strength to Tamil and Hindi films.
Premier Theatre, Claymore Drive (late 1970s-early 1980s)
Premier Theatre (辉煌戏院) was the only cinema at Orchard Towers after the 18-storey retail-office building was completed in 1975.
The cinema was operating on the fourth level in the eighties. After it was shut down, its large 16,000 square feet premises were taken over by a club called Top10. In 2006, Top10 was reopened as Top5.
President Theatre, Balestier Road (1973-1996)
Shaw Organisation-owned 1200-seating President Theatre (总统戏院) had a grand opening at the end of August 1973. It was part of Shaw’s multi-million project in the 8-storey Shaw Plaza which also consisted a restaurant, an emporium, apartments and a multi-storey carpark.
A popular venue of shopping and movies for the Singaporeans for more than twenty years, the building was eventually demolished in 1996 together with the Hoover Theatre to make way for the construction of the new Shaw Plaza-Twin Heights.
Prince Theatre, Beach Road (early 1970s-2008)
See Jade Theatre.
Princess/Rajah Cinema, Bedok Town Centre (1983-2008)
The last of the four cinema at Bedok central to shut down, Princess/Rajah Cinema (公主/王子戏院) was well known among the Bedok residents for the relatively cheaper prices of its tickets, as well as good quality of its seats and screens.
The lax rules of the neighbourhood cinema was also a plus point, as the audience had the freedom to bring all sorts of food into the cinema. But once in a while, there were complaints that someone was caught smoking in the cinema, or the operator switched off the aircon to save money when the audience was small.
The cinemas at Bedok central had seen booming business in the eighties and nineties. But by the end of 2000s, all four had to shut down due to dwindling attendance. Even cheap tickets could no longer lure the crowds. When Princess/Rajah closed in 2008, the prices of its tickets were still some 30% cheaper compared to the ones in town.
Queen’s Theatre, Geylang Road (early 1930s-1950s)
Opened in around 1932, Queen’s Theatre (乐宫/皇后戏院) was located at the junction of Geylang Road and Guillemard Road.
In 1952, Queen’s Theatre was on the headlines when a carpenter fell to his death while repairing the roof. It was the cinema’s second fatal accident in three years. Rumours started to spread that a spiteful ghost was haunting the ceiling of the cinema, so much so that no workmen wanted to take up the repair job. It did not help that Queen’s Theatre was built on the site of an old Malay cemetery.
Despite the rumours, crowds were still patronising Queen’s Theatre which showcased Malay, Indonesia and even Egyptian movies. It was so popular that the Shaw Organisation once expressed interest in acquiring the cinema.
Today, the site of the former cinema is occupied by Grandlink Square.
Queenstown/Queensway Cinema, Commonwealth Avenue (1977-1999)
Queenstown/Queensway Cinema (皇宫/女皇戏院) was part of the three cinemas at Duchess Estate of Queenstown, where they had their glories during the seventies and eighties.
One of the earliest cinemas in Singapore, termed as multiplexes, to be fitted with modern facilities; a twin-hall cinema, a 18-lane bowling alley, karaoke lounges and fast food restaurants, Queenstown/Queensway Cinema was the favourite hangout for scores of students and residents living nearby. Accessibility was also made easier when the Queenstown MRT Station opened in 1988.
However, towards the end of the nineties, Queenstown/Queensway Cinema could not compete against the new multiplexes fitted with better picture quality and Dolby Surround sound effect, leading to its closure in 1999. With the crowds gone, the bowling alley also ceased its operation a year later, along with the fast food restaurant of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
The theatre was then leased to a billiard and gaming shop. They could not last long and the building was left vacated since then. It was sold for $10.2 million in October 2002.
Regal Theatre, Bukit Merah Town Centre (1979-late 1990s)
Owned by Cathay Organisation, Regal Theatre (皇都戏院) was one of the only two cinemas at Bukit Merah central; the other one being Dalit Theatre. As the first suburban cinema by Cathay, it was opened in 1979, catering to the residents of Bukit Merah, Redhill Close and Henderson.
After it was shut down at the end of the nineties, the building continued to enjoy crowds due to the popular McDonald’s fast food restaurant at the ground level. The ownership of the building changed hands in 2000 for $12 million, but McDonald’s continue to lease the premises until late 2000s.
By mid-2012, the building was demolished, with the site likely to be replaced by a new educational and training center.
Republic Theatre, Marine Parade Central (early 1980s-early 1990s)
Republic Theatre (金国戏院) was one of the two cinemas, the other being Liberty Theatre, at Marine Parade central during the eighties. Its Chinese name means golden kingdom, while Liberty means silver kingdom.
Both Republic and Liberty were owned by the Shaw Organisation. While Liberty Theatre exhibited mostly Chinese movies, Republic was the venue in Marine Parade for the fans of English films. Liberty could not survive after the mid-eighties, but Republic was given a chance when it was converted into a three-screen cinema in 1989. However this proved to be short lived as Republic Theatre was also closed a few years later.
In 1992, it was used briefly for worship services by Bethesda Charismatic Centre.
Rex Theatre, Mackenzie Road (1946-1983, 2009-Present)
Rex Theatre (丽士戏院) opened with a bang in 1946 by the Shaw Organisation, screening its first movie “The Jungle Book”. The cinema, located at Mackenzie Road near Little India, lasted some thirty-plus years before it ceased its operation after “Jaws” in 1983.
In 1976, Rex Theatre became a talking point as crowds were seen queuing for the screening of “Earthquake”, the first film in Singapore with the new “Sensurround” sound effects that could send vibrations through the cinema seats as the simulation of a real earthquake.
When Rex Theatre closed in 1983 due to struggling movie industry, it was converted into a performance house for two years. Several popular Taiwanese and Hong Kong singers such as Steven Liu (刘文正) and Roman Tam (罗文) had their concerts held there. In 1989, the cinema building was used as an ice-skating rink by Fuji and then leased to a church in the late nineties.
In 2001, the building of Rex Theatre was acquired by Ryan Wong, former national squash player and the elder brother of local artiste Wong Li-Lin. It was rebranded as TJ Live House, consisting of a disco, pub and a performing stage for live bands. Invested by two businessmen, Rex Theatre finally reopened as a cinema in 2009 for the screening of Indian films.
Roxy Cinema, East Coast Road (1930s-1978)
Roxy Cinema (乐斯戏院) was opened in the 1930s at East Coast Road, opposite the famous Red House Bakery. Being the first cinema in the eastern part of Singapore, it was a favourite haunt, especially among the Eurasian students of the nearby St Patrick’s School.
After the Second World War, the Shaw Brothers bought over the cinema. Its household name was retained while the cinema continued its screening of wide varieties of English, Chinese, Malay and Indian movies. It was not until 1978 when Roxy Cinema was sold by the Shaw Organisation.
During its heydays, the cinema was so popular in Katong that its premises were referred as “The Roxy Area”. After its demolition, a new building, named as Roxy Square, was built in 1984 near the location of the old theatre.
Royal Theatre, North Bridge Road (early 1900s-1977)
Like Diamond Theatre which was standing by its side at North Bridge Road, Royal Theatre mainly screened Tamil films, but it was opened almost half a century earlier than Diamond.
Royal Theatre first started as a Malay theatre before switching to Indian movies from the fifties to seventies, a golden period of its colourful history when it enjoyed brisk businesses. It, however, was also bothered by fires, black market tickets and gangsterism.
Ruby Theatre, Balestier Road (1958-1985)
Ruby Theatre was opened by Cathay Organisation along Balestier Road in 1958.
In the seventies and eighties, the Balestier area had a reputation of being a mini entertainment hub, as three cinemas, the other two being President and Hoover, stood here. There was also the Shaw Studio at Jalan Ampas which specialised in Malay films for almost thirty years.
In 1986, the residential-cum-shopping mall Balestier Point was built replacing the demolished Ruby Theatre.
Savoy Cinema, Boon Lay Place (1980s-late 1990s)
Shaw Organisation stretched its movie empire to the far western part of Singapore when it opened a branch at Boon Lay Place in the eighties. It was called Savoy Cinema (四海戏院), or commonly known as Old Boon Lay Cinema.
The cinema underwent a major renovation in 1988, after which it received its first Public Entertainment License for its two new cinema halls. But by the late nineties, its business declined due to the opening of the new Jurong Point Shopping Mall with its Golden Village Cinemas.
After its closure, the ground premises was occupied by McDonald’s for a period of time, before taken over by a kopitiam.
Seletar Cinema, Sembawang Road (1930s-1960s)
Seletar Cinema, previously called Pei Li Cinema, was opened in the 1930s at Bah Soon Pah area (between Sembawang Road and the current Yishun Avenue 6) for the benefits of the villagers. It was then purchased by Lim Chong Pang (1904-1956) at the end of 1930s and renamed as Seletar Cinema.
In 1947, the cinema was bought by Koh Chin Chong who called it Nee Soon Cinema. When the business of the cinema deteriorated, it was shut down and its building was converted into a motor-car showroom.
Singapura Cinema (formerly Taj Cinema), Changi Road (1960s-early 2000s)
Singapura Cinema (新加坡戏院), formerly known as Tai Cinema, was an iconic landmark at Geylang Serai. Owned by the Shaw Organisation, it used to screen Malay movies. Standing beside Geylang Serai Market and Hawker Centre, the cinema was part of a development plan for the needs of the residents living at Geylang Serai.
The brown building is expected to be demolished soon for the construction of new condominium Millage @Changi.
Sin Wah Theatre, Lorong Ah Thia (1970s-late 1980s)
The air-conditioned Sin Wah Theatre (新华戏院) was once a popular landmark among the residents of the old Bukit Panjang. The humble cinema, standing next to a two-storey shophouse with kopitiam, provision shops, tailor shops and electronic shops, was often used as a venue for fund-raising events and children’s singing competitions.
Specialised in Chinese kungfu movies as well as the Western films, Sin Wah Theatre finally met its demise in the late eighties due to the rapid development of the new town of Bukit Panjang.
Straits Theatre, Old Woodlands Town Centre (1970s-1984)
The Straits Theatre (海峡戏院), located at the Old Woodlands Town Centre, specialised mainly Malay and Indonesian films. By 1984, it was shut down and its building was sold for other commercial use.
Sultan Theatre, Chong Pang Village (1930s-1980s)
Sultan Theatre began as early as the 1930s. The project was initiated by Lim Chong Pang, who continued his father Lim Nee Soon’s involvement in the development and municipal works of the present-day Yishun and Sembawang areas.
Due to he increasing population in the villages scattered around Nee Soon, Lim Chong Pang felt that there was a need to construct an entertainment center for the residents. Sultan Theatre survived until the eighties, maintaining its high popularity with its imported Chinese movies.
Surina Theatre, North Bridge Road (1920s)
One of the early pre-war cinemas at North Bridge Road along with Tivoli and Jubilee, Surina Theatre was a high-end cinema patronised largely by the British.
It was opened in the early 1920s, importing British movies and charging $2.00 to $2.50 for its reserved seats, which was a hefty amount during that era.
Taman Jurong Cinema, Yung Sheng Road (early 1970s-mid 1990s)
The former Taman Jurong Cinema was located near the junction of Yung Sheng Road and Corporation Drive. Taman Jurong was the first housing estate, followed by Boon Lay Garden, Teban Garden and Pandan Garden, that was developed by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) in 1964. As the housing estate grew rapidly in the early seventies, a swimming complex, stadium, community centre and cinema were added.
Taman Jurong Cinema was not the earliest cinema in the western part of Singapore. After the Second World War, a Jewish businessman called Joe David set up an open-air cinema using the site of a former sawmill.
The former building of Taman Jurong Cinema is currently being leased to S-11 Eating House.
Tivoli Theatre, North Bridge Road (1910s-1930s)
The name Tivoli was taken from the old classic cinema Tivoli Theatre located at Scotland, also known as Her Majestic’s Theatre. Like Surina, it showcased British films and was popular among the Eurasians. Its golden period bettered Surina, lasting more than two decades before the Second World War.
Toa Payoh Cinema, Toa Payoh Central (1972-2010)
Toa Payoh Cinema (大巴窑戏院) was opened by Eng Wah Organisation in 1972, one of its bold moves in opening a cinema at the heartlands of Singapore. It was one of the two cinemas, the other being Kong Chian Cinema, at Toa Payoh Central.
It was upgraded to Toa Payoh Entertainment Centre but had ceased its operation by 2010. It was then sold to Hersing Pte Ltd for S$66 million a year later, and the building is now known as ERA Building.
Venus Theatre, Margaret Drive (1965-1984)
See Golden City Theatre.
White Sands Cinema, Paris Ris Central (1990s-early 2000s)
Eng Wah Organisation’s White Sands Theatre (白沙戏院), located at Pasir Ris’ White Sands Shopping Centre, closed in the early 2000s while the shopping mall itself changed ownership in 2007.
Its premises now houses the Pasir Ris Public Library.
Wembley Theatre, Geylang (1930-undetermined)
Wembley Theatre was one of Singapore’s earliest suburban cinemas when it was opened at Geylang in 1930.
Woodlands Theatre, Old Woodlands Town Centre (1980-early 2000s)
The residents of Woodlands were delighted when the Shaw Brothers opened the Woodlands Theatre (兀兰戏院) in February 1980. It was the first cinema at the Old Woodlands Town Centre, a transition point that was popular among Singaporean and Malaysian travellers between the two countries during the seventies to nineties.
During its premier, Woodlands Theatre screened a Chinese movie called Fists of the White Lotus, starring popular Hong Kong artistes Lo Lieh, Liu Chia Hui and Hui Ying Hung. The popular demand in the early eighties saw Woodlands Theatre put on five movies daily.
In 1989, Shaw Organisation converted Woodlands Theatre into a two-hall 600-seating multiplex (Woodlands 1 and 2). It was Shaw’s sixth cinema conversion after Prince, Jade, Savoy, Republic and Changi.
Like Old Woodlands Town Centre itself, Woodlands Theatre gradually lost its popularity by the late nineties. The opening of Causeway Point in 1998 helped determine its final days.
Yangtze Theatre, Eu Tong Sen Street (1977-2015)
Perhaps more famous for its screening of erotic films, Yangtze Theatre (长江戏院) actually came a long way. Started in 1977, it mainly showed Chinese kungfu movies, catering to the Chinese-dominated Chinatown and People’s Park.
In 1988, its Malaysian owners Sun Chai Realty Pte Ltd tried to sell the building for $6 million without success.
In the late 2000s, the cinema tried to change its image by switching the majority of its screened films to mainstream blockbusters, but the move failed and the cinema faced financial difficulties. In 2011, a $350,000 renovation was given to the aging cinema, and crowds began to return for the erotic movies again. However, it could only last for another couple of years before its eventual closure in 2015.
Yi-Lung Cinema, Dover Road (1970s-1980s)
Yi-Lung Cinema was a small cinema that existed at the quiet neighbourhood of Dover between the late seventies and early eighties.
Zenith Theatre, Tampines Road (late 1960s-1984)
A cinema called Zenith Theatre (仙宫戏院) that mainly showcased Malay and English films once stood along Tampines Road.
It was took over by the church of Bethel Assembly of God in 1984, which then moved to New City Theatre a year later.
Today, Fortune Park Condominium stands at Zenith Theatre’s original site.
Others: Cinemas in British Military Camps (1950s-1970s)
British army and naval camps used to have small cinemas for the benefit of their crews.
The Royal Air Force based at Tengah Air Base had an Astra Cinema, while there was a Kent Cinema, housed together with a bowling alley, at Dover Road possibly for the welfare of the British military stationed at the nearby Portsdown Camp. A cinema by the name of AKC Cinema also once existed at Gillman Camp. In the north, there was this Naval Base Cinema located at Sembawang Naval Base (1938-1968).
Screening mostly British films, the cinemas were opened to the public as well.
Others: Film Studios (1937-1973)
Two film studios that deserved a place in the history of Singapore-produced movies were the Shaw’s Malay Film Studio (1937-1942, 1947-1967) at Jalan Ampas and Cathay-Keris Studio (1953-1973) at East Coast Road.
Set up by the Shaw Brothers in 1937 to produce Malay movies for the local clientele, the Malay Film Studio launched more than 160 films in more than two decades, in what was known as the “Golden Age of Malay Cinema”. The legendary actor, singer and director Tan Sri P. Ramlee (1929-1973) was the most famous name to emerge from the studio, winning numerous awards and honours from his 70 films and 200 songs.
After its abandonment for several decades, the premises of the Malay Film Studio was given a fresh makeover in early 2012, ending speculation that the land it is sitting on might be used for private residential purposes.
Cathay joined in the black and white Malay movie industry with its Cathay-Keris Studio established in 1953. Encouraged by the success of its 1957 Malay blockbuster, Pontinanak, Cathay produced a series of movie sequels and other Malay supernatural films. The Lion City in 1960 was Singapore’s first locally produced Chinese-language movie.
How many of these old cinemas do you remember? 😉
Published: 02 August 2012
Updated: 28 June 2021