Memories of Penang’s Olden Cinema Halls Remain Strong

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

Many Penangites know the cinema showtimes by rote – as we make a trip down memory lane.

Back in the day, catching a blockbuster movie was a real treat in the 60s, 70s right up to the 80s.

Everyone has their special memories of Cinema Showtimes in Penang.

The cinemas in old George Town were private establishments.

Your family outings, movie date night, and even high school children went for an afternoon matinee after school.

Flims and movies were the highlights and our only entertainment.

Life was more straightforward and cheaper back then.

For a mere forty cents, people could escape into a make-belief world, sitting in front rows, with the screen literally in our faces.


Tickets were expensive, and the audience had to wait in line for hours to find a seat.

Students could only afford second-class tickets.

If they got there early, they would sneak to the first class rows to catch the best movies.

Even if they were third-class, they would often move up to first-class to see the latest releases.

That’s when the torchlight-wielding Uncles go for their ciggie breaks!

The cinema was also extremely cold, so children wore sweaters, and parents had to buy them special seats.

Air conditioning did not become available until the late 1970s, so cinemas used giant fans to cool the atmosphere.

Modesty Lines, seriously!

Seriously, there were separate queues for men and women to purchase tickets back then.

Tickets were drawn from perforated booklets, and a tailor’s dual-color pencil was used to mark out seats sold on a sheet of the cinema’s floor plan.

Blue ticks for men and red for women!

If you’re a single woman watching a movie alone, have no fear, the ticket seller would allocate an available seat just for you.

There were two such seats between the pillar and the aisle in the Cathay cinema. Such was an era for modesty.

Of course, they divided the seating arrangements into first, second, and third classes.

The coveted balcony seats called “upstairs” were the most expensive.

There was an interval midway through for a quick bio break in the REX cinema, which screens English movies theatre-style.

People could go to a cinema bar at the mezzanine level, which sold colas and milkshakes for the rich ones.

But no worries, the best part is you could also bring your food and drinks to the cinema with the favorite being “kuachi” (sunflower seeds).

After each screening, there was a carpet of discarded “kuachi” shells on the aisles.

It was also common for stray cats or rats to get into the cinemas for discarded food!

Of course, back then, you could also smoke to your heart’s content in the darkened halls.

When shopping malls opened and new cinema chains spouted, the old cinemas soon became obsolete and closed down one by one in the 1990s.

Privately Owned & Housed Cinemas

Cinemas were privately owned in Penang.

Eventually, Shaw Brothers amassed a cinema chain, which spanned the island and included the historic Windsor Theatre.

The names of the cinemas include Central, Eastern, Globe, Rex, Sun, Lido, Royal, and Capitol (converted from the Windsor Theatre) and Federal.

Today, Shaw Brothers Cinemas are operated as a part of the Golden Triangle Entertainment Complex.

Although these old cinemas have ceased operation, they have been rescued and restored with adaptive reuse in place.

History of Penang’s First “Talkies”

The Grand Old Dame is back!

Our collective memory is of the golden era of films and talkies.

The extensively restored and renovated, the Majestic recently opened its doors to a modern theatre for performances during the George Town Festival 2016.

The Majestic showed a mixture of circus and theatre with live juggling and a black comedy in the uniquely atmospheric, theatrically tuned listening theatre.

Penang’s philanthropist Khoo Sian Ewe’s most memorable bequeath to the movie starved Penangites in 1926 was the Majestic Theater which he built attached to 12 adjoining shophouses.

Formerly known as the Shanghai Sound Theatre, it was the first “talkies” and lived performance in Northern Malaya.

The cinema was designed by one of the earliest known Straits-Chinese architects, Chew Eng Eam.

Art Deco Style Cinemas

There are two free-standing landmark Art Deco-style cinemas with a fantastic facade with fine features of Art Moderne.

A wonderful Art Deco architectural style that emphasized curving forms and long horizontal lines emerged in the 1930s.

The Odeon Cinema had the most name changes, with each new operator.

I once knew it as the Lyric Theater, then King’s Theater, Veenai Odeon, and finally Penang Odeon.

The last two metamorphoses had Odeon playing mainstream Hindi and Tamil movies, which bought back a trove of memories.

The Odeon has reopened and re-emerged as Odeon–The Heritage Asylum, an interactive art destination.

Memories of the Great Cinema Showtimes

Rex Cinema and the entire residential enclave of Kinta Lane have turned into a business area with the row of heritage terrace houses turned into a furnishing city and Rex.

The King was relegated to being a furniture store.

The Sun Cinema and the Odeon Cinema were Penang’s first-class cinemas, and they were the best places to watch movies and catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Our life stories are a collection of many forms of memory that we remember with fondness.

Chin Chin, 52, who grew up in one of the terrace houses opposite Rex cinema, recalls,

“In those days, there were no shopping malls. The Rex was one of the live centers that provided a livelihood for the stalls operators in front of the cinema.

Rex used to screen English movies, and the James Bond movies would draw full houses every time.

When Rex closed down, all the supporting small businesses dwindled.

Sadly the coffee shops, Hwa Leong Kopitiam and Embassy, closed down eventually.

“I remember the skillful fruit seller with his assortment of fresh-cut fruit in his glass display case, the aroma of Bak Kwa grilling over hot coals.

The Kacang Putih seller, the titbit seller with his treasure trove of sweets, Ken Ken cuttlefish, prawn cracker, and sunflower seeds.

That was their occupation in life, and it was a time that no one questioned; if they could do something better.

Nowadays, whenever I pass by the Rex Cinema, I feel a certain awkwardness that it has turned into a furniture shop.

The social economics and demographics of Penang have changed with time.

The old areas in town seem to have lost their glamour and charm,” Chin Chin added.

Memories of Penang's Olden Cinema Halls Remain Strong

Odeon Cinema along Penang Road, Penang. Photo: R. MAHGESHAN.

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

Rex Cinema along Burma Road, Penang. Photo: R. MAHGESHAN.

Live Chinese Opera Performances

The Sun cinema was a treasure trove of films and performances, including stage shows, magic shows, and Chinese opera.

The first of the cinemas to be refurbished, the Sun became one of Penang’s oldest nightspots with techno music, Rock World.

After that, the Sun was converted into a fitness center.

The cinema manager and his family lived in the Sun cinema, just behind the silver screen.

Old Cinema Memories…

Margie Chee, 48, a homemaker, recalls fondly the Friday night family movie showtimes.

She has watched every Shaw Brothers’ Hong Kong Kung Fu style and sword-fighting flicks.

Kung fu heroes like David Chiang Da-Wei, Wang Yu, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Lo Lieh, Fu Sheng, and Bruce Lee movies were legendary and played to a packed house as everyone loved to watch fighting moves.

“I remember meeting the beautiful and regal movie star Li Li Hua who was the darling of the Asian movie world then.

I remember thinking she must be an angel as she stepped out of a sports car. She was so beautiful!”

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

The beautiful and regal movie star Li Li Hua Photo:

Cinemas in Amusement Parks; Gone and Erased.

In the 50s and 60s, the Wembley Cinema and Wembley Park (famously known by locals as Choon Man Hui).

The amusement park on Noordin Street attracted crowds of Penangites on the weekends, with

  • spiffy swing dance halls
  • movie screenings
  • live bangsawan performances
  • ronggeng parties
  • pinball arcades
  • billiard parlors
  • bumper cars.

Alas, an era is forgotten now that Wembley has been demolished.

The Wembley Site

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

On the left-hand side, the Wembley Penang and Cititel Express Penang now sit on the former Wembley Park site. Photo: Doris Lim.

Collective Memories of Hindi blockbuster Haathi Mere Saathi

Both the Lido and the Globe, a semi-open cinema at the New World Park, Swatow Lane, have been demolished.

The grounds of the New World Park are a lively open-air spot with more than 80 street-food stalls.

A more extensive amusement arcade had cabaret joints and gambling dens were known as the Great World Park before Prangin Mall was built.

The Capitol, Paramount, Royal, and Eastern have all been demolished for Komtar.

The site of Royal and Paramount is the current Komtar Walk.

The former site of Cathay is vacant and used as a temporary car park.

Both Royal and Paramount used to play Hindi and Tamil movies.

In 1971, Royal screened the Hindi blockbuster movie Haathi Mere Saathi (Elephant My Friend) for six months running to the full house.

Haathi Mere Saathi is one of the memories best encased in time capsules.

It is so impactful to a generation of young Malaysian children.

It was a tear-jerker with a simple storyline that cut across all races.

Orphaned Raju was the beloved elephant in the company of four elephants made to perform at street corners to keep alive.

As teary-eyed children growing up in that era, we could not tolerate the harshness towards the lovable elephants and hated that they forced the hero to choose between the elephant he loved and his jealous wife.

We children learned of startling questions that women pose to force men to choose.

To this day, many Malaysians could continue fondly when the tune is played and sing, “Chal Chal mere haathi…” by rote without knowing a single Hindi word!

I remembered my mother and neighbor bringing us children to watch the movie, and it became the storehouse of memories that was poignant for me.

Even as a little girl, my favorite actor was Rajesh Khanna.

Fact: In 2015, the Maratha Mandir cinema in Delhi ended its 1,009-week run of the Bollywood blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, taking India’s longest-running movie off the big screen after nearly 20 years.

When Churches Take Over

Full Gospel Assembly Penang occupies the former Choong Nam Theatre in the Ayer Puteh neighborhood, which the church bought over in 1997.

FGA Penang also occupied two other theatre buildings, the former Gala Theatre off Aboo Sittee Lane from 1989 until 1997 and the former Majestic Theater briefly in 1997.

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

Gala Cinema along Macalister Road, Penang Photo: R. MAHGESHAN


The modern curved glass-clad Federal Cinema along Dato Keramat Road has been transformed into a Chinese restaurant with a karaoke lounge and fitness center.

Before that, it was once called the Honolulu Club.

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

Federal Cinema along Jalan Dato Keramat, Penang. Photo: R. MAHGESHAN.


The Cathay, formerly known as Queen’s, was owned by the Choong Lye Hock Estates.

They have converted it to a Mydin Wholesale Emporium with its facade now clad in metal and glass.

Memories of Penang Golden Cinema Showtimes Remain Strong

Cathay Cinema along Penang Road, Penang Photo: R. MAHGESHAN

The Last Mohican

In less than a decade, Lotus Five Star Cinemas (M) Sdn Bhd (LFS Cinemas) has grown to become one of Malaysia’s largest cinema chains with over 13 outlets and 51 screens in both Peninsular and East Malaysia.

LFS Cinemas is dedicated to screening multi-lingual movies of different genres to satisfy its wide range of customers’ interests.

The last of the Mohicans is the LFS BUTTERWORTH.

This stand-alone cinema is still in operation as the only cinema in Butterworth, which only shows Bollywood movies.

Golden Screen Cinemas Showtimes

Malaysia has 164 cinemas operating throughout the country. The only states without cinemas are Perlis and Kelantan.

The largest cinema operators

From old movies to modern flicks, Penang has a long history of cinemas.

Penangites are movie-loving locals who make sure to catch cinema showtimes every weekend.

As you go down memory lane to visit the ‘olden days’ of movie-going in the 1950s – what are your special memories?

What about the present?

Whether you’re a fan of local or foreign film, there’s something for everyone in Penang.

And through the years, Smart Dory is just another movie buff who watches enthralled from beginning to end of every film history and movie – lost entirely in the MAGIC in time!

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic In The Film Industry 2021 Update On No Cinema Showtimes

In 2020, across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic had severely impacted the film industry and across all arts sectors.

Cinemas and movie theatres have been closed, festivals have been canceled or postponed.

Film releases have been moved to future dates or delayed indefinitely.

Due to cinemas and movie theatres closing, the global box office has dropped by billions of dollars.

Disney and Netflix have taken over the entertainment industry as streaming became increasingly popular.

Despite the recent closures of these cinemas, the Golden Cinema’s showtimes in Penang still remain a vivid memory.


This story was published in the defunct Malaysia Outlook and is reproduced here as a memory piece.

The old photos are sourced from R.S. Murthi’s website. Most images are scans of old postcards with photos licensed from European and Asian amateur and professional photographers.

R.S. Murthi “cleaned up” and “posterized” these memory pieces.

Wikipedia – List of cinemas in Malaysia


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