Step back to the 1980s at Waverley Cinema
This school holidays I managed to see two films in the cinema. This was more than I saw the whole of last year because unfortunately, I have no interest in superhero films. I believe they are propaganda designed to persuade the world into thinking that the United States is not rapidly descending into a failed state.
But that’s not my point.
The first film I saw was Air about the sponsorship deal that Nike made with Michael Jordan in the mid-1980s. I saw it in the lovely and very modern cinema at Pentridge Prison in Coburg. Did you know that the prison complex now has a shopping centre and cinema attached? Well, it does and it’s disconcerting.
But that’s not my point either.
My point is it cost me $22 to see Air. I am OK with that. I wanted to see the film. The seats were unbelievably comfortable with lots of leg and elbow room. The iconic opening riff of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing sounded excellent. It felt like money reasonably well spent. The movie was pretty good too. Michael Jordan’s mother (played by the amazing Viola Davis) is a true superhero.
The other movie I saw was another throwback to the 80s, Super Mario Brothers. My kids really wanted to see it and wanted me to see it with them. I… could not care less. And I baulked at the idea of paying over $50 to watch an extended piece of Nintendo advertising. I knew it would just be a really long game of Super Mario and Mario Kart bundled together (spoiler alert: it was) and I can watch that for free at home.
But I love my kids and since I yell at them a lot during school holidays, I thought I'd give them and myself a break. So I Googled ‘cheapest movie tickets near me’ and it came back with the Waverley Cinema. I had never heard of it before.
Then when I saw that the cinema would not look out of place in an episode of The Henderson Kids or as a set for BMX Bandits I decided then and there that we had to go.
And that was before I found out it would cost us only $8 each to see Super Mario Brothers.
Where is the Waverley Cinema?
The Waverley Cinema is tucked into a corner of the Pinewood Shopping Centre on
According to the Cinema's incredibly retro website, it was the brain child of local entrepreneur Chris Bedelis. Originally designed in 1974 with a theatre restaurant upstairs and the cinema downstairs, Brian Jean came onboard to run the cinema.
As a teenager, Mr Jean worked at the Civic Theatre in Ashburton (now the site of the Shell Service Station). After leaving school, the Civic management trained him in the art of film projection and he worked at a number of small cinemas across the south-eastern suburbs.
Cinema, according to his daughter Nicole, was ‘in his blood forever. He wanted his own.’  Brian did not care that many cinemas were already closing down.
Fortunately for the Jean Family, locals embraced the new cinema. They dressed up for the grand opening and the premiere film, the now classic satirical western, Blazing Saddles.
Brian Jean operated a 35 mm carbon arc two reel projector that night.
He never left it from then on.
An instant local institution
Over the course of the next years, Waverley Cinema hosted children’s birthday parties, weddings, singles evenings, seniors afternoons and combined movie and meal deals with the restaurant upstairs.
Waverley Cinema became the essence of the phrase ‘family business’. Brian and his wife Anne kept the cinemas in good repair, Nicole and Adam, their children, ran the projections with their father. Aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, in-laws and friends of family members all chipped in to help run everything from ordering in choc-tops to front-of-house and marketing.
At first the restaurant was Maysyls, run by Doug Mayson and John Sylva. In the mid-1980s, in an effort to control the noise levels, Brian took it over and turned it into Nicole’s, after his daughter. The noise problem continued.
For many years, Waverley Cinema was co-owned by Village Cinemas. But by 1987, the Jeans bought Village out, closed down the restaurant and converted the space into two additional cinemas.
The rise of the multiplexes
Village wanted to get in on the rising multiplex cinema market attached to shopping malls. Between Village and Hoyts, they both began to monopolise the cinema industry in Australia.
The answer for most small suburban cinemas back then was to move into the art-film space.
‘We dabbled in art films a bit last year (1996) but unfortunately our theatre’s too big,’ Nicole told The Age in 1997. ‘Overnight, you just don’t get an art audience, as hard as you try to. Sixty people in a 300-seater on a Saturday night is really depressing.’
Waverley Cinema stuck to its mainstream films and, for the most part, did well into the 1990s. ‘Our main aim with any film is to at least equal the national average of what it’s doing at that stage of its run. More often than not, we’re well and truly above that,’ Nicole said then.
Into the new millennium
As the century clicked over, the Waverley Cinema still had its very loyal fans. In 2009, Oscar-winning clay animator Adam Elliot, a former Mt Waverley resident, returned for a special screening of his prize-winning short film, Mary and Max.
The Cinema also doubled as a film set for Holding the Man (2015), set (not surprisingly) in suburban Melbourne in the 1980s and 90s.
Google reviews remain overwhelmingly positive. From February this year:
'What a beautiful hidden gem!' Sarah (not me)
‘I love the old style feel.’ Stefan
‘Old-fashioned cinema, cosy and comfortable seats, great view and sound.’ Gerard
The only complaints are from people who find the seats too small.
Cheapest tickets around?
Waverley Cinema remains comfortable and pleasingly retro. Its not just the decor that is of an earlier time, its the prices too. All films are $8.
In case you are superhero-movie-adverse like me and haven't been to the cinema in a while, I put together this table of comparative prices for cinemas nearby for a mid-afternoon weekday screening of Super Mario Brothers. These are for standard cinema tickets, not fancy Gold Class, Supermax, Wine and Foot Massage Class, or whatever extras you can get these days.
Local cinema price list as at April 2023
Village Rivoli (Camberwell)
Village Century City (The Glen)
So when I say its cheap, its REALLY cheap. It's cheaper than three 860g boxes of Rice Bubbles. If I had taken my kids to see Super Mario at Chadstone, it would have cost me $62.50. That's almost the price of a Super Mario game. At Waverley, it only cost me $24.
According to one lady on Google, birthday parties are really good value too. She wrote, ‘We organised our son's 15th birthday party movie experience for 20 guests. The cinema printed special vouchers with his photo and birthday message as tickets. It only cost $19 pp for a choc top, popcorn, soft drink & cinema ticket.’
Not only that, you can park out the front, there’s a supermarket two minutes walk away and did I mention the tickets are really cheap? Now I'm not one of those historians who only researches history so they can complain about how things aren't like they used to be. But the Waverley Cinema is the exception.
It is an anachronism from a simpler and easier time in the very best possible way.
Check it out for you next cinema visit!
References  "Parcel of Land, a Fluke and a Projectionist," Newsletter of the Waverley Historical Society, February 2015.  Masterson, Andrew, "A Small Player Looks at the Big Picture," The Age, 13 December 1997.  "Mt Waverley's Own Shares It Around," Waverley Leader, Blackburn, 19 May 2009.