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Oxford’s first cinema was the Electric, which opened in 1910 in an old public wash house on Castle Street. It was subsequently named the Picturedrome, and remained open until 1925.

Other early cinemas included the Oxford Picture Palace on Cowley Road (1911–1920) and the Electra Palace on Queen Street (1911–1958). 1912 saw the opening of the George Street Picture Palace ('the Oxford', 1912–1935), and the conversion of the Palace Theatre to show films as well as variety performances (1912–1938).

The North Oxford Kinema on Walton Street was opened in 1913. In 1920 it was renamed the Scala; it specialised in old and foreign films, and was patronised by film clubs. In 1970 it was taken over by Star Entertainments Ltd and converted into Studios One and Two.

Following another change of ownership it was renamed the Phoenix Cinema, and in 1989 it became the first cinema to be owned and run by the newly formed City Screen Ltd (now Picturehouse Cinemas).

The final addition of the roof-top bar in the 1990s brought the cinema to its current configuration.