LA's Long-Awaited Movie History Museum Is Finally Ready for Its Closeup

The $484-million project brings diverse movie magic and history to Museum Row

Official Ribbon Cutting Of The Opening Of The Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures
JC Olivera / Getty Images
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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

6067 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA
Phone +1 323-930-3000

Almost two centuries after French inventor Louis Le Prince captured "Roundhay Garden Scene's" galloping horse in what would become the oldest surviving motion picture, and nine years after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AKA the Oscar people) announced plans to build a stellar showcase for showbiz history, Los Angeles, as of Sept. 30, finally has a proper movie museum. 

"It matters for Los Angeles to have this film museum," actor Tom Hanks told reporters at a preview day. Hanks, a board of trustees member, spearheaded fundraising with Annette Bening and Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger. "We all know that films are made everywhere in the world, and there are other cities with film museums, but with all due respect in a place like Los Angeles, created by the Motion Picture Academy, this museum has really got to be the Parthenon of such places."

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has been a long time coming. In fact, the quest to house memorabilia and celebrate the art form and those who create it under one roof in the industry town most associated with it was written into the 94-year-old academy's original charter. But much like a problem production, it was plagued by budget overruns, false starts, construction delays, competing visions, the #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo controversies, missed opening dates, and a global pandemic.

"This is an art form that we've wanted to celebrate and preserve from the beginning," Dawn Hudson, Academy CEO, told USA Today. "We're creating a space in which you're completely immersing yourself in movies. It wasn't a simple equation to solve. It took some years, but we solved it."

The solution ended up being a $484 million, 300,000-square-foot, seven-story Museum Row complex comprised of two buildings: the retrofitted 1939 Streamline Moderne-style former May Co. department store and the new 26-million-pound, concrete and glass sphere that holds a 1,000-seat theater and a terrace that looks out to the Hollywood Sign designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, known for Paris's Centre Pompidou, London's Shard, and New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. The instant architectural icon, already nicknamed the Death Star, much to Piano's discontent, sits next door to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and across Wilshire Boulevard from the Petersen Automotive Museum in the Miracle Mile neighborhood. 

Raiding its extensive library, studio warehouses, and the storage units of its powerful and wealthy members like director Steven Spielberg who lent one of his prized possessions, an original Rosebud sled from "Citizen Kane," the academy amassed what it labels the most extensive collection of film-related items in the world. It boasts more than 13 million photographs, 67,000 posters, 137,000 pieces of production art, props, and costumes, and of course, a hallway of authentic gleaming Oscar statuettes.

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and Vanity Fair, Premiere party, Co-hosted by Robert Pattinson, H.E.R., Britt Hennemuth, and Bill Kramer
Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures / Getty Images

The immersive main exhibition, Stories of Cinema, is broken into galleries highlighting different parts of the filmmaking process, including screenwriting, costume and set design, hair and makeup, cinematography, editing, sound mixing, scoring, and animation through soundbites from the experts themselves, film clips, actual screen tests, music, artwork, props, and costumes. It also has chambers that highlight significant movies and moviemakers, which will rotate. The opening slate covers "Citizen Kane," Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, "Real Women Have Curves," Bruce Lee, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and African American film legend Oscar Micheaux who was behind many controversial race films. 

Other galleries under this umbrella include a history of the Academy Awards, a collaboration with a director (opening lensman is Spike Lee), and reflections on how movies and Hollywood can impact society, shape public awareness, and help instigate change. Director Pedro Almodovar's career is also studied in another installation. The tools of the trade—magic lanterns, zoetropes, projectors, etc.—are explored in yet another section.

The most famous are represented, to be sure, but the academy does an excellent job of emphasizing diverse, underrepresented, and often overlooked voices and their work. It also attempts to convey its warts-and-all history. For example, the makeup installation shows blackface and yellowface methods used in the 1930s and 1940s. 

"This is a place to learn about film history," museum director and president Bill Kramer told CNN. "A lot of our past is not great—racism, oppression, and sexism. So, while we're celebrating the artistry and the artists, we also want people to find a safe space to have more complicated conversations and create our new future together." 

Also up at opening is the first significant and extensive retrospective of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki outside of his native Japan and corresponding screenings of his masterpieces. The Hurd Gallery currently features a spotlight on the art of backdrops and will see the opening of "Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971" in 2022.  

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and Vanity Fair, Premiere party, Co-hosted by Robert Pattinson, H.E.R., Britt Hennemuth, and Bill Kramer
Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures / Getty Images

Peppered throughout are highly recognizable, authentic movie mementos sure to tickle any true cinema lover's fancy, including Dorothy's ruby slippers, maquettes from "Frozen," Gregory Peck's annotated "To Kill A Mockingbird" script, an animatronic Terminator head, the "North by Northwest" Mount Rushmore backdrop, Disney animator Frank Thomas' old-school drawing desk, C-3PO, The Dude's robe, Okoye's warrior garb from "Black Panther," and a full-size model of Jaws, lying in wait above the escalators.

"It's shiny and new and enormous, and it's crammed with about 125 years' worth of ideas and dreams and life-changing cinematic experiences," said actor Anna Kendrick at the opening press event.

The museum's several theaters will host film screenings and themed retrospectives like Oscar Frights! (horror movies in honor of Halloween throughout October), a celebration of women composers, and the films of prolific Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Q&As, family-oriented events, and educational programming.

The Oscars Experience simulation transports guests to Hollywood's biggest night and lets them hear their name, walk across the Dolby Theatre stage, and accept their award. And they'll get a video capturing the whole thing. (Because did you really hold an actual Oscar if you don't post about it?) The complex also hosts a gift shop and Fanny's restaurant.

Accessibility was an important factor when creating the museum. Some initiatives include complimentary manual wheelchairs, braille and large-print guides, free audio guides on the mobile app, audio descriptions devices, ASL interpretation for programs and tours (request at least three weeks in advance). Leashed service animals are welcome. Calm Mornings presents the museum before opening hours with moderated sound and lighting for sensory stimulation concerns. For more accessibility information, check out this page

Open 365 days a year, timed admission reservations must be made in advance online. Tickets are $25 for adults, $19 for seniors (62+), and $15 for college students., Visitors 17 and under are free, as are members and California EBT cardholders. The Oscars Experience is an extra and optional $15 per person. Programs and screenings also require separate tickets. 

To enter, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before arrival is required. Per LA County health department policy, all visitors age two and up must wear masks indoors. 

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LA's Long-Awaited Movie History Museum Is Finally Ready for Its Closeup