Cinema in Singapore

Escape the heat.

What we say: 3.5 stars

In a climate like Singapore's, catching a new film release can be a great antidote to the sweat, and luckily the city state has dozens of cinemas to cater to the desire to cool down while munching popcorn.

Mainstream cinema in Singapore

Many of the larger malls in the city have a cinema attached. Releases tend to veer towards action and drama rather than arthouse, but there are opportunities to see those too (see below). Movie website carries comprehensive details of what is currently showing along with upcoming releases.

Alternative film in Singapore

Operating since 1990, The Picturehouse was the first to bring arthouse and independent movies to Singapore. In addition to showing films that wouldn’t be a hit with your average movie-goer, it regularly hosts film festivals, workshops, and Q&A sessions with visiting directors. The Picturehouse is located on the sixth floor of The Cathay Building alongside a mainstream movie theatre. Contributing to the cinema’s grown-up ambiance, the seats are Italian suede and snacks are banned from inside the theatre. If you do want a drink before the film, there’s a lounge with a full-service bar. With only one screen, features run one film at a time for about two weeks. Don’t worry if the movie you plan to see isn’t in English -- all foreign films are subtitled.

The Picturehouse: The Cathay Building, 2 Handy Road. T: 6235 1155. SMRT: Dhoby Ghaut

Indian and Tamil films in Singapore

With almost 10 percent of Singapore’s population identifying as Indian, Bollywood looms large over the cinematic landscape. Here are some suggestions of where to head.

The historic Rex Cinemas screens Tamil movies from South India - but check for English subtitles before you go.

The historic Rex Cinemas screens Tamil movies from South India.

Bollywood Hindi films, usually subtitled in English, can be found at the Bombay Talkies cinema in Beach Road, a spot popular with all Singaporeans. While Indian films can often be divided along regional and linguistic lines, a common feature among them are the numerous full length songs and dances in each film. So be warned: each movie is typically about three hours long, with a 15-minute intermission for you to refill your chai and chaat.

So you’ve heard of Bollywood, but how about Kollywood? Kollywood films are significantly different, coming from south of Bombay, and are popular with Singapore’s native Indians who are mostly of Tamil origin. They feature less of the glitz and glamour of Bollywood, and often focus on themes of family, village and traditional values. In Singapore, Tamil films are screened at the historic Rex Cinemas on MacKenzie Road near the Little India SMRT. Many of the films do not have English subtitles, but the real Tamil blockbusters of the year most probably will.

Even if you’re not watching a movie, do swing by Rex for a look while in Little India — it was first opened as a general theatre way back in 1946 by the famed Shaw brothers, moguls of Chinese cinema.

Given the success of the inaugural Singapore Bengali film festival in 2012, mainstream cinema operator Golden Village (GV) cinema in City Square mall near the Farrer Park SMRT in Little India screens Tollywood, or Bengali films from Kolkata. This genre tends to be somewhat more subtle and contains fewer songs and dances.

Do note that watching an Indian film is a few dollars pricier than usual, with a ticket costing up to $15 — price differences depend on the budget of the movie. However, you do definitely get more bang for your buck, with up to three hours worth of screen time to enjoy. Do however lower your expectations of facilities at the smaller cinemas as they tend to be not as well-maintained as the big chains. And avoid Sunday’s huge crowds — Sunday is the main rest day for the blue-collared Indian diaspora in Singapore.

Bombay Talkies: #02-00 Shaw Towers, 100 Beach Road SMRT: Esplanade or Bugis. Take the Beach Road exits.
Rex Cinemas: No.2, Mackenzie Road SMRT: Little India. Take Exit A
Golden Village at City Square mall: SMRT: Farrer Park. Take Exit I.

Other foreign language film in Singapore

Foreign film fans should keep their eyes on the events listings for the “Cine Club” by the Alliance Francaise. A few times a month the group shows French films with English subtitles and non-members are welcome if they pay a S$7.20 ticket price. SAM at 8Q, the contemporary extension of the Singapore Art Museum, occasionally screens films by local and international filmmakers at their ‘Moving Image Gallery’ theatre.

Alliance Francaise: 1 Sarkies Road, 6737 8422
Singapore Art Museum: 8 Queen Street, 6332 3222

Last updated: 22nd April, 2015

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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