I’ve never been to the cinema in Shanghai, because I like free things better than things for which I have to pay. And you simply don’t have to pay for films in Shanghai. There are free screenings around the city pretty much any day of the week, and the films represent a wide range of tastes and genres. Plus, they’re usually in bars, so you can drink while you watch. In other words, full-priced tickets at your neighborhood cinema are for the birds.
Here is a round-up of my favorite film nights for English-language or English-subtitled films.
Sub-Culture Cinema at Dada
Dada Bar has a regular film night put on by Sub-Culture. It takes place a few times a month, mostly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. The films are usually a bit off-beat with a fair share of both new and old cult classics. They also occasionally do a Cinemashup night, which features a selection of short films just to mix it up. You can even submit a short film yourself if you’re so inclined. The films usually start at 9pm, and there’s always free popcorn and cheap drinks.
BEAN Shanghai Documentary Film Screening at The Apartment
Local charity BEAN does a monthly film screening at the Apartment, most often early Sunday evening at 5pm. They show a variety of China-related documentaries and films from Chinese filmmakers. It’s a great opportunity to learn about your temporary home in the laziest and therefore most appealing way possible (i.e. drinking at a bar while watching a movie). Entry is free, and drinks and burgers are two-for-one. Be sure to RSVP through their website.
Weekly Film Night at Vienna Café
The Vienna Café has a weekly film night on Thursdays. They screen all types of recent releases from America and Europe: independents, popular films, Oscar winners and modern classics. Like the others, this one is totally free, but you do need to reserve in advance. Screenings start at 7:30pm and all the films have Chinese subtitles.
Weekly Film Night at The Goethe Institute
The Goethe Institute—a cultural organization sponsored by the German Consulate here in Shanghai—has a weekly Friday night film series which screens German films for free. The films are contemporary, so it’s a good chance to see what’s playing in Germany right now (but may not be available in the DVD shops or in real cinemas around town). The films are in German, but they sometimes include Chinese and English subtitles (check their website to find out what’s showing). The films begin at 7pm.
SunScreen Movie Club at The Geisha
The Geisha recently started a Sunday afternoon movie club featuring contemporary American and European films, either in English or with English subtitles. The drinks are buy-one-get-one-free, and there are also board games if you, I don’t know, get bored watching the film or something. You’ll be mildly entertained either way. [Editor’s note: A resounding endorsement!] Entrance is free and the movies get going at 3:30pm.
There are also loads of one-off film nights and screenings happening around Shanghai all the time. Then, of course, there are the citywide film projects and film festivals. By keeping an eye open for posters at your local watering hole or expat website, you’ll never have to pay for a movie again.