Art Cinemas Open Their Doors While Drive-ins Thrive



The news that the art cinemas of Budapest would be opening their doors without restriction at the end of June has put a smile on the face of the city’s cineastes, including my own.

Illustration by ShlyahovaYulia/Shutterstock

Movies will be shown at the Művész, Pushkin, Toldi, Tabán, Kino Cafe and Corvin cinemas without restrictions, although there will be one performance a day.

For those of us who love to watch movies – or to sit blankly staring into space while pretending to do so – the last few months of lockdown have been a version of cinematic cold turkey. The various online platforms have been a poor substitute.

Wanting escapism, I’ve gorged on those Hollywood comedies that usually involve at least one gross out moment to qualify for “edginess”. These are movies that camouflage their reliance on the unthreatening three-act structure with knowingly dumb dialogue.

I’ve inhaled entire ten-hour online series’ over just two days, from baffling sci-fi thrillers involving clones and bewildering alternate realities to nauseatingly glossy reality TV product. Maybe one is the result of the other.

Watching great movies at home hasn’t been much of a consolation. Our TV covers most of a wall but it that still wasn’t large enough to do justice to Quentin Tarentino’s almost three-hour long “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

When we watched the movie at our local cinema, my partner and I were mesmerized by its sheer sprawl and cheerful refusal to offer much in the way of a story. We agreed that, long as it was, we’d have been happy if it was twice the length. On TV, we couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Not that we needed reminding, but part of the great pleasure of watching great movies is being in a decent cinema and Budapest has its fair share of them.

Enormous Kick

I also get an enormous kick out of watching Hungarian movie-goes in their natural habitat. What follows is, as ever, a gross generalization, but it is based on a few years of observation.

Unlike the British, Hungarians insist on sitting in the seat they’ve paid for. On the one occasion I gave in to my anarchist tendencies and sat where I wanted, I almost caused an international incident. The fact that I couldn’t understand my ticket and wasn’t able to find my seat by myself didn’t help.

Hungarians love to eat cinema food, especially those giant tubs of popcorn and vats of soda that come with a collapsible step ladder so you can climb up the side of them and dive in.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered why the food sold in cinemas is so spectacularly wrong for a darkened space that’s meant to be quiet? Whose bright idea was it to sell smelly, loud food that stains your clothing forever if you miss your mouth?

But the biggest difference between Hungarian audiences and those in other countries is that here people sit and watch the credits to the very end.

This could be down to making absolutely sure they get value for money. Or they could be checking to see if any Hungarian best boys, gaffers or grips were involved in the making of the movie.

Because, as we all know, Hungarians have always been the secret rulers of Hollywood.

Although we’re rubbing our hands with glee at the prospect of our local cinema reopening, my partner is somewhat concerned by the health and safety aspect. If the cinemas are opening without restriction, it would seem inevitable that people will sit next to each other.

Drive-in Options

One way to enjoy the movies without worrying about a stranger sneezing all over you in the dark, is to get your cinema fix at one of Budapest’s drive-ins.

Although the idea of drive-in cinema is being enthusiastically promoted right now, it’s actually not new to Budapest. Our friends at list four in the city. Of these, two offer movies with English subtitles.

The Westend Rooftop Cinema and the cinema at Mammut 2, on the Buda side of the city are both operated by Budapest Rooftop Cinema (BRC). Since 2013, BRC’s brief has been to combine the pleasures of classic movies, cinema al fresco and trendy rooftop bars.

BRC requests that rooftop cinema goers stay in their cars and listen to the movie via their FM radio. I’m not entirely sure what happens if you need the restroom. Maybe they don’t sell swimming pool sized buckets of soda.

You don’t even need your own car if you choose the Rooftop Cinema at the Westend shopping mall next to Nyugati railway station. There’s the option to hire seats in a limo.

The limo can have its roof closed or open. BRC recommends that you only book for two passengers. Sadly, you can’t ask to be collected and dropped off at your home in the limo.

Don’t quote me on this (I relied on Google translate) but it seems from the website that, during the pandemic, entrance to BRC events has been free for healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters who have booked in advance. BRC has also been donating part of its proceeds to hospitals, healthcare and social institutions in need of support.

So, if you do check out Budapest Rooftop Cinema at the Westend or Mammut 2, you won’t just be indulging in your cinema craving. You could be contributing to a good cause.

The only problem with both drive-in cinemas and the open-air kind is that they only really suit certain kinds of movies. For example, it’s hard to imagine being able to sit in your car for the entire duration of “One Upon a Time in Hollywood” unless you’d hired the limo.

Details of Budapest art cinemas now open at Drive-in options at

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