Wellington's grand cinema tradition lives on

When the curtain rose on the world première of 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey', Wellington’s grand old art cinemas took another bow.

New Zealand’s capital city and film hub is home not only to internationally regarded film studios, but also a series of historic and quirky cinemas, each with its own passionate following of local movie buffs.

Centre stage in Wellington’s entertainment district, The Embassy, and the stunningly refurbished Roxy which holds court in the Miramar film quarter, are the stand out venues - each with their own personality and story helping to make the audience experience unique and memorable.

In other parts of the city, a series of smaller suburban cinemas provide an intimate and laid back movie experience.

The Embassy

Wellington's grandest cinema venue shot to fame when it hosted the stunning world première of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Almost 10-years later the grand old dame played host at the world returned to Middle-earth in the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first movie from The Hobbit Trilogy.

The theatre was completely refurbished for the 2003 world première of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and since then has hosted the Australasian premières of Peter Jackson’s King Kong and The Lovely Bones.

Built in 1924, The Embassy is an iconic Wellington landmark situated at the head of the buzzing downtown entertainment precinct of Courtenay Place.

The Embassy has many fine features such as marbled staircases, wrought iron handrails, original tiled foyers and exquisite plastered ceilings.

The 2003 refurbishment added a giant cinemascope screen, state-of-the-art sound system and luxury seating. The theatre was also restored in keeping to its origins and heritage.

December 2011 marked another event in The Embassy’s history with the opening of two new boutique cinemas and lounge bar in the space created by the 2003 refurbishment. This area was originally occupied by the orchestra during the ‘silent’ film era of the 1920’s and 30’s.

The two new cinemas have 70 seats each, and have been named deLuxe - recalling the building’s original name.

The Embassy also houses Blondini’s Café & Bar on the upper level which overlooks the buzz of Courtenay Place nightlife.

The Roxy

Miramar’s The Capitol Theatre was built in 1928 to screen silent films, and was the last theatre in Wellington to convert to screen talkies in 1932.

The cinema operated throughout the 30s through until the early 60s when it was converted into a surburban shopping mall. When the mall eventually closed, it sat empty for some decades until Camperdown Studios - part of the Peter Jackson film empire - purchased it a plan to restore it back into a community cinema.

An enthusiastic group of film fans including Weta Workshop founders Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, Oscar-winning editor Jamie Selkirk and wife Ann, along with local foodies Valentina and Daminda Dias, and cocktail bar guru Jonny McKenzie were the people behind the project.

After a year-long rebuild from the ground up, The Roxy reopened in April 2011 with two luxurious state-of-the-art cinema screens, a 60-seat restaurant, complete with stunning interior features created by Weta Workshop.

The Roxy also has a popular restaurant and lounge bar called Coco.

The Penthouse, Brooklyn

First lady of Wellington’s quirky art-house cinemas, The Penthouse in Brooklyn proudly retains old-fashioned art deco charm and style while offering a boutique cinematic experience.

The cinema has been through a varied history of ownership and functions. It started out as a theatre, became a commercial production house in the mid-20th century, and returned to a cinema in the 1970s.

The original cinema was refurbished, and a second cinema was opened downstairs in 1995.

The Empire, Island Bay

The Empire is an iconic Island Bay landmark that has been restored for a new era of cinema goers.

The old auditorium, which last saw the flicker of a movie projector in 1963, has been completely refurbished and converted into three boutique cinemas decked out with comfortable sofas.

The cinema plays mainstream blockbusters, family movies and art house titles.

There is also a café serving coffee, fine wine and fresh Kiwi cuisine, and The White Room art gallery showcasing quirky art collections.

The Light House cinemas

The Light House cinema group has venues in several Wellington suburbs, offering some of the best films from art-house festivals in intimate comfortable surroundings with food and beverages to complete the experience.

Background: Wellington

Built on the edge of a deep harbour and steep surrounding hills, Wellington is New Zealand's 'creative capital'.

The city is home to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and national treasures such as the original Treaty of Waitangi - New Zealand’s founding document.

Nature and wildlife experiences are a major draw-card for the Wellington region. Zealandia, a few minutes from the central city, is a sanctuary for endangered native birds and other New Zealand wildlife, and Kapiti Island - just north of the city on the Kapiti coast - is a renowned island sanctuary with a unique wildlife population.

More information

'The Hobbit' Trilogy in numbers

Wellington is world’s coolest little film capital

Wellington Film Destinations Map