A cinema employee who was threatened with a sawn-off shotgun during a terrifying armed robbery on Sydney's north shore declared minutes after the thieves had fled that "the show must go on" and started the film for cinemagoers, a witness says.
About 50 people were inside the historic Roseville Cinemas at 8pm on Monday night when three men, thought to be aged 18 or 19, and a younger female stormed into the foyer with a shotgun and a machete and began threatening staff and patrons.
The thieves pointed a shotgun at a male cashier working at the box office while they raided the cash register, stealing about $1000 of the cinema's takings.
Police said thieves also threatened to shoot and kill a number of cinemagoers if they did not hand over their wallets.
Despite the threat, a number of cinemagoers refused, while others complied.
The thieves then fled in a stolen Nissan Pulsar, which police say was used in another armed robbery at a hotel in Revesby later that night.
Police said the thieves had carjacked the vehicle from an 87-year-old man in the driveway of his Lane Cove home earlier on Monday evening.
Paul Gertler, who was at the cinema with his wife Sonya at the time of the robbery, said the cashier declared that "the show must go on".
"The guy behind the counter that had just been threatened was just incredible," Mr Gertler said.
"He said 'Right, well we're going to play the movie now if you want to hang around for it'. About half of the people left and about half of the people stayed."
Mr Gertler and his wife were planning to see the 8.15pm screening of The Best Offer, and were standing on the first floor eating ice-creams before taking their seats when they heard a commotion downstairs.
"Someone walked into the downstairs and you could hear them swearing, shouting. I think it must have been the cashier just telling them to ... get out of here, the police have been called, get out of here."
Mr Gertler said the usher who was taking their tickets crept downstairs to find out what was happening, and returned to tell them a robbery was taking place.
The usher then took the the Gertlers and about six other people into an office to hide. They could see CCTV footage of the robbery taking place downstairs.
"I couldn't see very much of it," Mr Gertler said.
"Then I started calling triple-o and I was on hold for what seemed like ages. They had left, the robbers had left and I was still on hold. It would have been a good five minutes."
Mr Gertler estimated there were about 50 people in the cinema over the various floors at the time, including many elderly people who were in the foyer and witnessed the robbery.
"We were definitely shook up by it, for sure," he said.
"It was just the last thing you expect to happen. It's one of those things where, if we had've been downstairs a minute earlier, then we could have been caught up in the middle of it.
"It's completely nuts to bring a sawn-off shotgun into that situation. I mean I really hope they catch those people. It just seems crazy to me. Why on earth you would do that? You're never going to make much money out of it, on a Monday night at Roseville Cinemas."
Detective Inspector Carole Dowsen said the thieves began their rampage in Lane Cove earlier that night, stealing an 87-year-old man’s Nissan Pulsar - registration number YGT 582 - as he was attemping to get into it in his driveway.
The elderly man was not injured and has given police a description of the thieves.
After the cinema robbery, the same thieves raided the Revesby Pacific Hotel, about 30 kilometres away, two hours later.
In that robbery, three men entered the hotel on River Road just after 10pm armed with a shotgun and threatened the manager.
The men escaped with cash and cigarettes and fled in the same blue Nissan Pulsar, which was found burnt-out about 12.50am at a reserve in Westville Place, Westmead.
Detective Inspector Dowsen said the thieves did not steal a large amount of cash at the cinema, which was possibly why they targeted the Revesby hotel.
"A Monday evening [at the] cinema, where there can be families and children is a very unusual place to do an armed robbery. It's a very brazen attack, something that we think is actually shocking and we will be hunting these people down and we will get them and we will put them where they belong," she said.
Roseville Cinemas, which is a family-owned business, was the target of another armed robbery in 2007.
In that incident, a man wearing a balaclava entered the cinema at 11.15pm and threatened a female staff member with a knife and demanded money from the safe before running off.
The Roseville Cinemas building was erected in the early 1900s as a town hall, where the first Australian recruitment drive for soldiers was held at the outbreak of World War 1.
After the war it was transformed into a picture palace, and has remained a family-owned business since the 1930s.
The cinema has been contacted for comment.
Anyone with information about the robberies has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.