The untold story of beach cinema’s success

This Gold Coast cinema was once Queensland's biggest and most state-of-the art movie theatre. This is the untold story of Mermaid Beach cinema's rise and fall.

Getting that taste of silver screen magic can be a formative moment for many people in their lives.

And for many Gold Coasters, it happened for them at the Mermaid Beach cinema.

A landmark of the Gold Coast Highway, the building everyone is familiar with opened in the early 1980s and was one of several new developments which came to the beachside suburb.

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The first Mermaid Beach cinema.
The first Mermaid Beach cinema.

It sat just metres away from the Mermaid Beach McDonalds which was the first to open in Queensland in 1975.

At the time there were just eight cinemas in the region including Sundale, Southport Drive-In, Paradise Theatres Surfers, Coolangatta's Capitol and Regal theatres and the drive-ins at Beenleigh and Twin Towns.

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The Mermaid Twins cinema circa 1983.
The Mermaid Twins cinema circa 1983.

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The Tweed drive-in was particularly infamous, screening erotic films on Sunday nights from 7pm.

The newest theatre costed $1.9 million, featured just two theatres and was initially known simply as the Mermaid Twin Cinema.

Inside the cinema.
Inside the cinema.

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But it soon proved enormously popular, especially on the back of such popular films as E.T, Annie and First Blood.

ET in particularly was a major success and at one point was the sole film showing in one of the two theatres.

The strong crowds led its owners to launch a $1 million expansion in late 1983 when a third theatre was added, seating an extra 336 people.

The popcorn on sale.
The popcorn on sale.

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Bert Paull was the chief engineer for Birch Carroll and Coyle (BCC) designed and surprised the installation of what was called "the world's most advanced" quadraphonic sound system.

It officially opened on May 24, 1984, with the first film to screen being Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan.

The cinema in 1987 when its expansion was opened.
The cinema in 1987 when its expansion was opened.

The 1980s was the peak of the blockbuster era and cinema audiences continued to grow at rapid pace.

BCC announced another significant expansion of the Mermaid Beach cinemas which began in early 1987.

Renamed the Mermaid Cinema Centre, the complex grew to five theatres with room for 1600 people.

Photos of Mermaid Beach Cinema complex in the late 1990s.
Photos of Mermaid Beach Cinema complex in the late 1990s.

Opening in December 1987, it was the largest cinema complex in the state at the time.

BCC board member and theatre controller W.M Palmer told the Bulletin at the time the Mermaid complex was leading the way.

In addition to the McDonalds and Putt-Putt golf course, a KFC and Sizzlers restaurants both opened, turning the Gold Coast Highway area into a popular entertainment and dining area for the city's families.

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Margaret Abbott serving a patron at the Goodie Bar in late 1987.
Margaret Abbott serving a patron at the Goodie Bar in late 1987.

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Among the staff were manager Bill Gardner, Margaret Abbott at the "goodie" bar and Cheryl Gilchrist at the ticket office.

The expanded cinema had plenty to boast about.

It was serving Pandora's popcorn and was screening some of the year's biggest films.

It open with showings of The Princess Bride, Dirty Dancing, Leonard Part 6, Revenge of the Nerds II, Spaceballs, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, InnerSpace, Jaws IV: The Revenge, Fatal Attraction, Planes Trains and Automobiles and Three Men and a Baby.

The Mermaid Beach cinema in mid-1995 when Legends of the Fall was screening.
The Mermaid Beach cinema in mid-1995 when Legends of the Fall was screening.

But the success didn't last.

In early 1997 BCC opened its 12-theatre Senstadium cinema at Pacific Fair, launching with the special edition release of Star Wars.

AUGUST 30, 2004: the heavily vandalised site of the Mermaid Beach cinema. Picture: Sarah Marshall
AUGUST 30, 2004: the heavily vandalised site of the Mermaid Beach cinema. Picture: Sarah Marshall

It was the Gold Coast's largest cinema and soon became its most popular.

Only a year earlier another movie palace had opened at the new Robina Town Centre.

Mermaid Beach gradually became a second-run theatre, screening movies after the larger theatres.

It finally closed in 2002.

But the building remains today, and was for many years a medical centre.



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