This family-owned company was established as "Wallis Theatres" by its founder, Hugh Wallis, in 1956 with the opening of the Blueline drive-in theatre at West Beach in South Australia. The Blueline was the state's first drive-in theatre. Wallis Theatres expanded rapidly, opening drive-in theatres throughout South Australia over the next decade. The company operated the following drive-in theatres in Adelaide:
The company opened South Australia's first multi-screen cinema in 1971 when the single-screen Glenelg Ozone was purchased and transformed into what is now the Glenelg Cinema Centre. In 1972, Wallis Theatres saved the Chelsea Cinema at Marryatville from demolition. This cinema is now heritage-listed. The company's growth continued when Wallis Theatres purchased a warehouse in Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide, and converted it into a twin cinema. A further three screens were built in 1980, and the complex was named Academy Cinema City.
Wallis Theatres purchased the single-screen Forum Cinema at North Adelaide in 1983. This location was redeveloped into the Piccadilly Cinemas, although the company sought to maintain the heritage and architecture of the building. The company built and opened the five-screen Noarlunga Cinema Centre in 1991, the Mt Barker Cinemas in 2003, and the Mitcham Cinemas in 2007.
Wallis Theatres had closed and sold most of their country and suburban drive-ins by the early 1990s. Of their remaining drive-in locations, the Blueline closed in 1998 and the Valleyline in 2003. However, Wallis continues to operate the Mainline drive-in.
The company closed their single-screen Oxford Cinema at Unley in 2001. In 2007, faced with dwindling audience numbers, Wallis Theatres also closed down their five-screen Academy Cinema City complex. Competition from the Greater Union cinema complex at Marion resulted in falling numbers of patrons to the Glenelg Cinema Centre, which was closed in February 2009.
In 2005, Wallis Theatres changed their branding for all public advertising purposes to "Wallis Cinemas". Officially, however, the company was still known as Wallis Theatres. This changed in late 2007 when officially it was changed to the new name Wallis Cinemas.
Besides operating their cinemas, Wallis Theatres owns and operates Big Screen Advertising. This subsidiary company is involved in the distribution and screening of advertisements at cinemas. Big Screen Advertising has supplied pre-film advertising to all of Wallis' cinema locations since 2004, when Val Morgan Cinema Advertising (Wallis' previous advertising agent) was absorbed by rival cinema chain Hoyts.
Wallis Theatres owns and operates Auchendarroch House and the Wallis Tavern, both located at Mount Barker adjacent to Wallis' cinema complex. Auchendarroch House is an 1800s mansion that has been restored by Wallis to serve as a function centre.