Can you imagine a world without movies and cinemas? 

Most of us love going to the movies, and it has become part of the Singaporean identity. It wasn’t until COVID-19 hit did we realise how integral movie-going, and cinemas are to our lives. From going on first dates to checking out the latest Avengers movie – cinemas form the bulk of our activities here in Singapore!  

We’ve compiled a list of how cinemas have evolved throughout the years, no matter when you were born, there is something for everyone. 😉  

The first-ever cinema in Singapore was in fact a tent.  

It was set up by a travelling performer Basrai in 1902, at the junction of Hill Street and River Valley Road. Entrance fee was 10 to 50 cents, and films were projected onto the screen using limelight.  

Although the visual effects and cinematography were vastly different then, the tent cinema was a huge hit for two years, following his arrival.  

Then came 1904, enter the first enclosed cinema.  

The Paris Cinematograph was started by French entrepreneur, Paul Picard – and this was set up in the Malay Theatre at Victoria Street. Back then, a third-class seat cost 10 cents and a reserved seat was 50 cents. Silent films and hour-long pictures were screened back then.   

(Can you imagine a silent movie, cos I can’t) 

The first ever movies with sound only arrived in Singapore in the 1920s (called “talkies”).  

It was a huge hit in Singapore; amusement park cinemas started showing popular movies from all over the world. This era paved the way for the birth of Oriental Theatre at New Bridge Road and the Majestic Theatre at Eu Tong Sen Street (preserved till today).  


In the 50s, Cathay Cinema came into the picture, becoming one of the first to screen a full-length 3D movie. Cinemas in those days also came with a significantly spacious stage, equipped for live shows such as musicals, magic shows, beauty contents, variety shows and dance performances.  

There was also the drive-in cinema phenomenon in the 70s, which opened in Jurong – these could accommodate 900 vehicles!