The Eaton Centre Cineplex

by Jesse Hawken

They knocked down the above-ground parking lot at the Eaton Centre a few years ago and with it, the late, not particularly lamented Cineplex theatre that was situated at the base of the parkade. The Eaton Centre Cineplex was the first mega-multiplex theatre in the world. There were 18 screens when it opened in 1979, expanding to 21 a few years later.

When the place first opened it was more of an art-house theatre, for the most part, with subtitled movies, a cafe, art hanging on the walls and everything. When I was a kid, I saw the strangest films there – Storm Boy, The Public Enemy with James Cagney, weekly 2-for-1 double-bills of James Bond movies, shown in chronological order (it was here where I renounced my childhood delusion that Roger Moore was James Bond when I caught up with all the Connery ones).

Around 1982, the programming became more mainstream, more in keeping with what films the mall culture would want to see. This was around the time Drabinsky made his big play for expansion of the Cineplex corporation into the States – it all started when they programmed Blame It On Rio there… eventually all the art-house programming went up to the Carlton and all the little screens of the Eaton Centre filled up with all the hot, obvious titles that played and played until they got cold, which could sometime take months. The further back you went into the bowels of the complex, the older the movies got.

It was a very, very depressing place to see a movie. The theatres originally had rear-screen projection, so they would bounce the movie off a mirror behind the screen. To me the picture always looked distorted when shown this way. Most of the screening rooms were claustrophobic, more like an interrogation room from Orwell’s 1984 than a movie theatre. Fifty seats, bad sound and mysterious stains on the screen. Only one or two of the cinemas were up to something approaching a standard. One of the screens was just inside the entrance to the theatre and was like a roomy broom closet.

Eventually I realized the unappealing conditions in the theatre were conducive to enjoying incredibly bad movies – I would go down there with friends on a Tuesday night without having consulted the listings first. We would look up at the marquee, determine the worst film playing, and buy tickets for the next show (even if we only had 5 minutes!).

This was where I discovered the genius of Steven Seagal, appreciated the glorious output of the Golan-Globus action-movie sausage machine (Ninja III: The Domination! Cyborg!) and saw pretty much every late-eighties James Woods movie (Cop! The Boost! Best Seller!). One of my cherished memories was when friends of mine and I went to see Satisfaction with Justine Bateman one Tuesday night. It was playing on two screens. One theatre was sold out; the screening we went to, we had the place to ourselves. But the box office prices were that of an actual movie theatre most of the time, and then they junked cheap Tuesdays, so eventually I swore off the place.

Towards the last days of the Eaton Centre Cineplex it turned into a bargain-priced theatre – tickets were at one point as low as $1.50 any time. This turned the theatre into a trouble magnet for downtown lowlifes whose kind used to take refuge in the grindhouses of Yonge Street in the 70’s. ($1.50 is the cheapest hotel rate in town. And there are movies in your room.) Once the price was right at the Eaton Centre, I rationalized it was cheaper and funner to go see a movie there than rent one at home, so I caught up on a lot of late-nineties cheese towards the end (Deep Blue Sea! Supernova! Double Jeopardy!), in the company of loners, cheapskates and sociopaths.

I was convinced Cineplex would keep running the place until the last lightbulb burned out. This apparently happened in 2001. And then, a few weeks after it closed, down came the whole building. The last film I saw there was Coyote Ugly, and the theatre smelled a bit tangy that afternoon.

Jesse Hawken blogs over at the Telekino Times-Picayune.

[The Cineplex Eaton Centre opened on Tuesday, April 17, 1979. The first films to play there were: The Tree of Wooden Clogs, The Shout, Purple Taxi, Rain and Shine, Queen of the Gypsies, Newsfront, The Rubber Gun, and Tommy. Also accompanying the films were various shorts, some of which were produced by the NFB. -Ed.]

COMMENTS

  • Hey Jesse,

    Great article! I remember this theatre. I saw a few crusty horror films there with my Dad, the first Leprechan and Brainscan to name two. Rear projection, that’s why somebody came in and walked behind the screen just before the movie started. I thought he might have been pressing play on the tape haha. Now that I think back, it did kind of seem like a dungeon down there.

  • Back in 2000, the Worldwide Short Film Festival screened movies here (this was before it was taken over by the CFC). I was Guest Relations Coordinator, and so only got to the movie theatre a couple of times. But it brought back memories of going there when I was a teenager; it was the easiest place to theatre-hop. But it always smelled awful, and I remember the popcorn was bad. I have to admit, I wasn’t too sorry to see it go.

  • I wrote an article for my publication “Konflikt in the Kino” (looong ago) on how it really should have been saved because like it or not, it was the 1st and changed the way we viewed films.

    My first visit there was the day I moved to Toronto to go to film school. I saw “Night of the Demons” which was terrible, but I loved how many choices of films you had.

    If you looked however, you could find some films there that wouldn’t ever play any of the other theatres. I remember seeing “The Boys Club” (with Chris Penn!) there and dragging my freind Sunny (from THE EDISON TWINS) to a screening of “Gordy” there. It was a dumping ground for tax shelter flicks.

    In my article, I also spoke of the $1.50 pricetag that it was great for people on lower incomes living in the GTA, could actually afford to take their kids to the cinema. Before the renovations at the Scarborough Town Centre, their cinema went to this format as well and were $2 or so. It was the only place in town you could see the Michael Biehn Canadian flick “Silverwolf” (which I saw!) with music by PUNCHBUGGY!

  • Mike

    I remember watching movies in the early 80s like “Hair” and “American Pop” and various B and C grade movies throughout 80-85, all while getting high or dropping ‘cid in the stairwells of the parking garage first….ahhhhhhhh….the sweet memories of youth…RIP Sh*tiplex.. you were a great place to lose myself in for an afternoon.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by F.W. Houlihan, trashcompactor, Silent Toronto, Alden Cudanin, Silent Toronto and others. Silent Toronto said: From the archives, @JesseHawken reminisces about the Eaton Centre Cineplex: http://wp.me/pYW3L-5v #toronto #movie […]

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