The period between the 1960s to the 1980s were the years when the cinemas of yesteryear played movies to sell-out audiences and stood high and mighty throughout Penang.
More than a dozen cinemas ruled on the island and several more on the mainland — three in Butterworth, three in Bukit Mertajam and one in Sungai Bakap — attracting the young and old with tickets priced as low as 40 cents.
Over the years, their fortune nose-dived when modern form of home entertainment such as video players, home theatres, cheap pirated DVDs and ultra-modern cineplexes took a toll on them.
Movie and TV serials that could be downloaded easily from the Internet also quickened their demise.
The majority of the buildings survived the vagaries of time but their core business of bringing entertainment to the masses via the big screen has came to a sad end.
Among others, they have been transformed into fitness-cum-cafe centres, hawkers centres, karaoke joints, an emporium, churches, a private company and even a motorcycle shop.
Others like the Paramount and Royal, which played mostly Tamil and Hindi films, and Eastern, have been completely obliterated, giving way to the present Komtar.
Gone are the Lido and an open-air cinema, Globe, which were once located in the New World Park on Swatow Lane, while the site of Movieland is now occupied by Bayview Hotel Georgetown, formerly City Bayview.
There is still one lone cinema standing proudly on the island — the Odeon Cinema on Penang Road — that is still screening Tamil films from days of yore but with an upgraded sound system.
There is also another left standing in Butterworth, the Mega Odean, while Cathay Butterworth is a now a cineplex.
On the island, the once hugely popular Cathay cinema is now a wholesale emporium while Rex is a home furnishing centre, and Ambassador is a hawker centre.
The others are Federal (fitness centre-cum-restaurant), Choong Nam (church), Gala (church), Pawagam Dalit (souvenir shop), Star (garment wholesale) and Metro (model sculpturing company).
In Butterworth, Rex is a fitness-cum-cafe while in Bukit Mertajam, City Lights is a karaoke centre and Cathay, a motorcycle shop.
For the remaining few, the future is unknown. They are the Majestic and Wembley cinemas and in Bukit Mertajam, Cheok Sah. – Story and photos by H.N. Leong