A place that film buffs dream about, Vienna's last great single-screen cinema is no stranger to grand premieres. In 1960, the Gartenbaukino (founded in 1919) reopened as part of the redevelopment of the Gartenbaugründe, a plot of prime real estate on Vienna's showpiece Ringstrasse boulevard. Back then, Kirk Douglas was the guest of honor for the premiere which brought Spartacus to the capital's first 70mm screen. Numerous high-profile figures from the world of film followed over the years, including Martin Scorsese, Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise. In 2021, the Gartenbaukino – the main venue of the Viennale international film festival – was extensively renovated. Today, many parts of the listed cinema are back to their dazzling, original 1960s best. And the majority of the 736 seats in Vienna's largest movie theater now bear the names of their sponsors.
Nostalgia in Breitensee
While Vienna’s innermost districts certainly have an impressive concentration of arthouse cinemas, film fans will need to head to the fourteenth district for the city’s oldest. Or the world’s oldest, if legend is to be believed. What is certain, however, is that the Breitenseer Lichtspiele is the oldest continuously operating cinema in Vienna. Here, audiences take a seat on the original wooden chairs from 1905. Although the main focus is on domestic productions and international classics, there are also silent films featuring piano accompaniment or live narration. It also hosts LGBT events, including drag shows. Its legendary former operator Anna Nitsch-Fitz, who died in 2022, ran the small cinema for 53 years. Her niece Christina initiated a full refurb, but the nostalgic ambience continues to set the tone. A cinema for real film fans, and only twelve minutes from Stephansplatz by subway.
Comeback for a Legend
In Vienna, film fans have the pick of 17 arthouse cinemas. For now – as another is set to join their ranks very shortly. The Bellaria Kino aims to make its long-anticipated comeback in 2024. In 2019, the feted movie theater near the Volkstheater had to close after 107 years. But one successful crowdfunding campaign later, and a much-needed refurb is already underway. Although it will return as a bright new urban cinema hotspot, the charm and character of the Bellaria will be retained. The team at Café Liebling, also in the seventh district, is putting the finishing touches to an innovative concept for the site that includes a guest garden. Behind the cinema relaunch are the operators of the Votiv Kino and De France – two other arthouse cinemas whose broad-based programs enrich cultural life in the city.
Cinema and Museum in One
Any quest to find the city’s finest cinemas simply has to include a trip to the METRO Kinokulturhaus. Dating back to 1893, the magnificent listed main auditorium (pictured on page 78) with its wood paneling, balcony and red interior was used as a theater until 1951. Which explains the boxes off to the side of the rows of seats. Filmarchiv Austria took over the cinema in the heart of the city center in 2002 and converted it into a multi-story cultural center with event and exhibition space. Besides top highlights from the annals of film history, it specializes in contemporary national and international cinema. It also has a cozy cinema bar and a real rarity: the world's best-stocked specialty film bookstore. An ingenious touch: a large glass wall opens up views of the main auditorium from the entrance area.
Cinema, Art, Food
Like many other cinemas in the city, this picture house, which was founded in 1916 when it went by the name of the Schwarzenbergkino, can look back on an eventful history. It would go on to become today's Stadtkino, which found a new home in the Künstlerhaus on Karlsplatz in 2013. The large cinema hall with its historic murals is a real feast for the eyes, and now the same goes for the foyer which was modernized in the summer of 2022. Incidentally, it shares the building it calls home – likewise fully renovated in recent years – with the Künstlerhaus Artists’ Association, the Albertina modern, and restaurants Ludwig & Adele and Hausbar. The Stadtkino cinema has also been active as a film distributor since the 1990s. The focus is on international arthouse films, with not-infrequent forays into political and feminist territory also featuring.
Vienna has the perfect cinema for every taste. Schikaneder in the fourth district definitely enjoys cult status thanks to the colorful mix it offers: obscure works and classic movies, as well as film festivals dedicated to human rights and even porn. And screenings of popular German TV cop show Tatort on Sundays (free admission). The presence of a number of couches in the auditorium means that it is a home from home for some of its regulars. But not everyone comes just for the movies. The bar regularly hosts DJ music and LGBT events. Schikaneder, like its sister cinema Top Kino, is a hybrid cinema/bar.
Top Kino (pictured left) near Mariahilfer Strasse oozes cozy retro ambience. Besides an impressive range of culinary treats, it’s known for serving up a particularly varied arthouse program. Very popular: the Sunday movie breakfast.
- Experience festival glamour: the Viennale is a must for cinephiles each fall. Austria's largest film festival, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2022, is hosted at multiple cinemas where film highlights from all over the world are screened. And they also host a packed program of related highlights.
- Steeped in film history: the Austrian Film Museum has an extensive library and several collections. The centerpiece of the museum – part of the Albertina complex – is the all-black Invisible Cinema.
Text: Maria Schaller