A Favourite Movie Memory at the Stanley Theatre

Rebecca wrote a short history of the Stanley Theatre, and it reminded me of one of my favourite movie-going experiences.

On May 24, 1989 (I know the exact date thanks to this page), Rob Stover, Steve Lee and I cut out of Grade 10 afternoon classes. We drove (Steve had his license very early) all the way from our safe West Vancouver enclave over to the Stanley Theatre. We sat in the front row of the balcony and watched the first matinee show on the opening day of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

My friend Rob was a huge Indiana Jones fan, but it was a bit of a thrill for all of us. That was in the midst of my Premiere-reading period–I was a cinephile from early on.

The Stanley was a gorgeous cinema, and I miss seeing movies in that grand old space. It’s a lovely theatre, too, of course. It’s a pity the Arts Club doesn’t make consistently engaging shows to play inside it.


  1. I cut class on that day to pickup tickets for the evening show of Last Crusade at the Stanley.

  2. I remember seeing Superman 2 there. My parents took me. I was in love with Christopher Reeve, and wished I could fly, like Superman. Other silver screen memories from this theatre are Clan of the Cave Bear and Reversal of Fortune.

  3. Ha…my (all too long) job as a movie theatre employee started at The Stanley and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the first film I worked. I don’t recall if I was hired before the opening day, so I may or may not have served you there, Darren 🙂

    The Wikipedia page contains at least one grossly inaccurate “fact”: “The Stanley first opened as a movie theatre…before falling revenues led to its closure in 1991.” This falling revenue was an artificial situation created by Famous Players and its parent company, Paramount.

    The Stanley was easily the most popular theatre in town and was a destination venue — we often had people driving in from Surrey and even further out to catch films there. The problem is that films would open at the Stanley and they’d die at the Stanley. For IJatLC I think we were the last theatre in town to finish playing it. The film did superbly for the first 4-6 weeks. But months later it was still at The Stanley as Paramount (owner of FP and distributor of IJatLC) was trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the film. We’d be playing to 30 people a night, less for matinees. Horrible statistics for an 800 seat theatre, but about 30 more people than would be attracted to seeing the film at the Capitol Six #6 (their smallest theatre and where non-Paramount films went to die).

    I can’t tell you how frustrating it was an employee, a moviegoer and someone who loved that theatre to see its potential wasted on horrendous programming that served only to boost Paramount’s bottom line. Programmed properly, the Stanley could still be showing to sell out crowds today; if they’d simply changed the movies every 2-4 weeks, they could have maximized attendance at the theatre and kept the goodwill of many theatregoers in town. But new films would open at the Capitol Six #1 as it had more seats (and plenty of other crummy screens to serve as an alternative when your movie was sold out). People would call us and ask when a new film would be playing. We never knew. Attendance had to trickle down to nearly nothing (or another Paramount produced blockbuster had to be opening).

    Two other reasons for the passing of The Stanley as a movie theatre: 1) it wasn’t a multiplex (the chains long ago lost the ability to figure out what to do with a single screen theatre) and 2) Famous Players owned the property. A poorly programmed theatre on a prime piece of real estate in a popular shopping/dining area was worth more to the company sold than in continuing to keep it running. So they closed it — because keeping it open made it harder to sell and because it would belie their claims of unprofitability — and so there it sat as a boarded up blight for years.

    While I’m glad that someone managed to take the theatre over and has returned it to service in an arts-related capacity, I will never set foot in there again unless it is to see a movie. I’m not terribly hopeful of that happening, but I’d prefer to hold on to my fond memories of it as it once was.

  4. Juan: Wow, thanks for all that. I didn’t know most of its sordid final days.

  5. I saw a few movies at the Stanley, including “Fantasia,” but I have another bigger memory from another former Vancouver movie theatre. It was 1977, at the Vogue, and it’s where I saw my first-ever movie in a theatre: “Star Wars.”

    When you’re seven years old and your first movie is “Star Wars,” it makes an impression, I tell you.

    I also remember my second movie: “Hooper,” with Burt Reynolds, Jan Michael Vincent, and Sally Field, at a birthday party for a friend, and I think it was out at Guildford in Surrey. There is a scene where Burt gets a big hypodermic needle in his bare butt:


    (Huh huh, says my inner child.)

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