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Ultimate Picture Palace

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East Oxford's cult cinema, with 1 screen and a long, colourful history. All the classic films you ever wanted to see on the big screen, some art-house new releases and some you'll never have heard of. Wheelchair accessible for all screenings, and wheelchair using cinema-goers can use accessible toilets at G&Ds. Wheelchair friendly.

Good wheelchair/buggy access
Jeune St

Cowley Road Area
Telephone: 01865 245288

Map Website

picture of Ultimate Picture Palace

picture of Ultimate Picture Palace

picture of Ultimate Picture Palace

picture of Ultimate Picture Palace

Coming soon to Ultimate Picture Palace:

The Ultimate Picture Palace is closed Fri 19th - Thu 25th December 2014 Sat, 20th December 2014: (runs until Thu, 25th December)
Paddington [PG] Fri, 26th December 2014: 3.15pm (runs until Wed, 31st December)
The Imitation Game [12A] Fri, 26th December 2014: 5.30pm (runs until Wed, 31st December)
"I went in with no expectations, but its a well directed film with plenty of tongue in the cheek humour and a pretty good script...read more

Interstellar [12A] Fri, 26th December 2014: 8.00pm (runs until Thu, 1st January)
Leviathan [15] Sat, 27th December 2014: 6.00pm (runs until Wed, 31st December)
2001: A Space Odyssey [U] Thu, 1st January 2015: 3.00pm
"I've just been to see 2001: A Space Odyssey and what a disappointing film it is. I am not some MTV generation short attention...read more

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 1) [12A] Fri, 2nd January 2015: 6.15pm (runs until Thu, 8th January)
The Drop [15] Sat, 3rd January 2015: 6.45pm (runs until Wed, 7th January)
"The powerful male actors ensure that this tough thriller never drops in tension. It's scripted so that you're never quite sure...read more

Winter Sleep [15] Sat, 3rd January 2015: 3.00pm (runs until Tue, 6th January)
Baby Club: The Imitation Game [12A] Thu, 8th January 2015: 12.30pm
"I went in with no expectations, but its a well directed film with plenty of tongue in the cheek humour and a pretty good script...read more

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This week's events at Ultimate Picture Palace

The Ultimate Picture Palace is closed Fri 19th - Thu 25th December 2014 Sat, 20th December 2014: (runs until Thu, 25th December)
Paddington [PG] Fri, 26th December 2014: 3.15pm (runs until Wed, 31st December)
The Imitation Game [12A] Fri, 26th December 2014: 5.30pm (runs until Wed, 31st December)
"I went in with no expectations, but its a well directed film with plenty of tongue in the cheek humour and a pretty good script...read more

Interstellar [12A] Fri, 26th December 2014: 8.00pm (runs until Thu, 1st January)
Leviathan [15] Sat, 27th December 2014: 6.00pm (runs until Wed, 31st December)
And beyond this week...

Reviews of Ultimate Picture Palace

Watch the trailer for The Ultimate Survivor, Philip Hind's film about the history of the UPP here. And if you want to see the full film it'll be on at the UPP again in April, or you can contact Philip Hind to arrange a screening of your own.

DI Staff (Unverified), 14/03/11

Yes, it is a special place, run by special people. I love the informal, non commercial atmosphere. I HATE Odeons with their smell of popcorn, their twenty minutes of advertisements and deafening, hyperactive trailers.

Peter (Unverified), 26/02/11

Happy 100th Birthday, UPP! Feb 24, 2011

Celebrate with free screenings of The Smallest Show On Earth and The Ultimate Survivor (new documentary story of the UPP)

The Ultimate Picture Palace first opened in 1911, and it's due for its royal telegram on Thursday 24th February. It wasn't the first cinema in Oxford (that was in an old wash-house on Castle St), but it is the second and the oldest extant cinema, and it started life as the Oxford Picture Palace. Films were flickery, black and white and silent, though the laughter of the audience, sometimes up to 400 children, made up for lack of dialogue. Many cinemas also had cinema organs to add to the din.

It hasn't been a cinema all through (unlike the North Oxford Kinema, est 1913 - now The Phoenix) but this significant anniversary is about more than just one building. It really marks a century of cinema-going, which has lasted a turbulent time, surviving wars and competition as technology moves on.

After the First World War more and larger cinemas were built, and competition was too much for most of the first wave. The Oxford Picture Palace was no exception, and was closed by 1920. It then spent a long period empty, or acting as a furniture store, surprising given its proximity to Cowley Rd which bustled even then. It seems to have been abandoned pretty much intact.

During one of its empty periods it was briefly the site of a historic battle between some protesting squatters and the police. The squatters took over a house on East Avenue, and also the OPP, as a distraction. While they were there they showed some films, and even charged entry, so the council promptly responded by sending a bill for business rates. In Isolarion (a literary journey along the Cowley Rd) James Attlee describes this snippet of history beautifully.

Films and body parts

1976 - 1994

Bill Heine was running a cinema in Headington, the Moulin Rouge, and added the OPP to his empire in the mid 70s, changing its name to the PPP, or Penultimate Picture Palace. The Moulin Rouge had cancan legs, and the PPP Al Jolson hands. The legs got complaints and had to be exported to Brighton, where Heine had a third cinema. The various body parts were made by John Buckley, whose most famous collaboration with Heine is The Shark, Headington's infamous landmark.

Eventually Heine closed the PPP and it stood empty for two years in the mid 90s. These were dark days for Cowley Rd generally but the abandoned cinema seemed a step too far. Squatters moved in, highlighting its sad plight, and a public outcry moved things on a bit, helping it to become listed and to add a clause to the lease saying it must be a cinema. In 1996 Saied Marham took up the reins, and the PPP became the UPP, the Ultimate Picture Palace.

Saied's reign

4th June 1996 - 14th July 2009

In the late 90s when I came to Oxford as a student the UPP showed a season of Monty Python films on Sunday nights. People were known to come from miles away to watch such beloved films on the big screen, and for Saied it was not just about what someone might want to see but about what needed to be shown. He juggled mainstream cinema, arthouse, and forgotten masterpieces such as the Maxim Gorky trilogy (a series of films based on the Russian socialist's autobiography and released between 1938-1940). This series was not so well attended as Monty Python, but one grateful patron told Saied he had waited 40 years to see them all.

In subsequent years I saw Citizen Kane, Hitchcock's Notorious, The Devil Wears Prada and the Star Trek prequel. All were enhanced by the UPP's conviviality, occasional clangs from the projector, extraordinarily good value Membership deals and Saied's habit of starting late (once even waiting for us to finish a takeaway on the bench outside before he set the reels rolling).

In July 2009 Saied passed the baton to Jane and Philippa. There was a long and friendly handover, while old hand Saied inducted the new owners, new not only to the UPP but to cinema management and even to the Cowley Road. Saied remembers his UPP days fondly, but has now moved on to new challenges. He doesn't want to be remembered as a one-hit wonder, but I'm afraid for many of us he'll always be associated with more than a decade of cinematic experiences.

Jane and Philippa

2009 - 2011

Jane and Philippa really fell for the UPP, both as a cinema and as a building. They've continued in the same vein enough to please the old guard, while introducing more comfort and sprucing the place up a bit. More recent advances include G&D's icecream and haribo, as well a beautiful bar with drinks on sale and glasses on loan. I'm a bit sad they got rid of the old seats where every other one was numbered 13, but the new ones are comfy and have more legroom. They were bought on ebay, and made it up from Cornwall on a mad dash 24-hour trip. With help from the garage next door they were installed ready for the day's 5.30 showing.

This sense of camaraderie is something Jane really appreciates. At first the fridge worked on an honesty system, and the money always added up. And once they had to ask if there was a projectionist in the house, when Bob (regular projectionist since 1981) was ill.

It's not just the clients who rally round - for the distributors the UPP is a quirky anomale: the only cinema on their books with just one screen, with no digital projector, independently run... the list goes on. And yet Momentum still waited for their box office returns, hoping it would help them reach their target of £30 million cumulative takings for The King's Speech. When The Guardian ran a nice article on the UPP congratulations came in from some of the largest distributors. So, small, but not forgotten.

Fan groups of the UPP include party-goers who want a film screening as part of the festivities - they can specify that they want to watch the first half, stop to eat cake, turn down the volume on Pierce Brosnan's singing, and so on. School groups come from local primaries, to see film versions of the books they're studying. They enjoy the history of the UPP, especially the history of the toilets, and all the thank you letters include this as a highlight!

And then there are the projectionists. While the technology may be being phased out in most places the enthusiasm is not, and there is now a small but growing fraternity who visit not for the film but the projection room. They're trained up by Bob (and by main projectionist and manager James) keeping the skills alive.

And the future?

Jane and Philippa are still deciding how long to stay. But even if they're going somewhere, the UPP isn't. It's still got a lot of life in for a (very near) centenarian. It is still well-known, and well-loved by generations of students glad to live nearby, East Oxford locals, and lovers of idiosyncrasy everywhere. Its schedule still includes mainstream films just after they've closed elsewhere which is helpful, combined with old classics and occasional documentary festivals.

It still has no digital projector and no plans for one. So if the Valentine's screening of Brief Encounter is a little hazy it's because they've borrowed the original 35mm film from the British Film Institute. Just think of it as added atmosphere, fogging from the tears of everyone else who's ever watched it.

There's no cinema like it. It's not just its quirks, but the vivid impression that it exists not to line anyone's pocket, but because people love films. Long may its loving and patient owners continue dashing up and down the ladder, hoisting the cinematic flag high above the Cowley Road.

Jen Pawsey (DI Reviewer), 16/02/11

Yes... I have to admit the UPP is my kind of place. I have been going there for a while, since when it was quite chilly in winter and it smelled of damp (!) - though I was so happy to see the films I was seeing that it didn't matter that much! Now, it's more comfortable. I still wish somehow, sorry!: que je pourrais aller voir des films inconnus de pays inconnus et de ne voir presque personne dans le cinéma. Thank you for being here! :-)

Lucile Deslignères (DI User), 03/06/10

The newly revamped Ultimate Picture Palace, just off the Cowley Road, is almost like watching a film in your living room - you can drink wine in a glass, or a beer or juice, and eat yummy nibbles in a warm, clean and friendly atmosphere. What more could you want from a cinema that is also SO accessable from almost every part of Oxford as it's on many bus routes? Well done to Jane and Philippa for making it the ULTIMATE place to see the best films!

ExtraSpesh (DI User), 04/04/10

Previously at Ultimate Picture Palace

Mr Turner [12A] Dec 2014

A very charming film with a curmudgeonly Mr Turner portrayed wonderfully by Timothy Spall. However, at times it was so tongue ...read more

Fury [15] Nov 2014

Great film, but we were watching it at the Odeon on Magdalen Street and both really struggled to understand big chunks of the ...read more

'71 [15] Nov 2014

A nail-biting hard hitting thriller. I loved it. Tight script, great acting. It portrays 1971 Belfast with gritty realism but ...read more

Violette [12A] Nov 2014

Frankly I did not expect much and I was pleasantly surprised. The film relates several chapters of Violette Leduc's life, ...read more

Gone Girl [18] Nov 2014

This is a film that seems to have divided critics; it has been slammed for pretentious craftiness and coldness and distance of ...read more

Maps to the Stars [18] Oct 2014

Its difficult to really grasp what this film is trying to do. It puts you though the whole gamit of emotions, only to leave you ...read more

A Most Wanted Man [15] Oct 2014

The most intelligent and thought-provoking movie of the year. It challenges your soul; every character has so many levels and ...read more

Before I Go to Sleep [15] Oct 2014

This is a throwback to the type of 'woman in peril' thrillers that used to star Ashley Judd in the late 90s, the kind ...read more

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