Hollywood loves a blockbuster, and that’s exactly what it got with the opening of the $482 million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The film industry has dreamt of a movie museum for almost a century and it took a decade of planning, construction, and, in the finest of Hollywood traditions, delays and cost overruns, for the curtain to finally rise on this spectacular 300,000-square-foot Wilshire Boulevard facility in September of 2021. Los Angeles’s newest cultural landmark is at last ready for its close-up—here’s how to best experience it.
Architecture: The Best of the Old and New
Since 1939, the May Company department store building, with its limestone-clad Streamline Moderne design and cylindrical gold leaf–covered façade, has commanded the Miracle Mile corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue. Renamed the Saban Building, the old store’s interior has been extensively reimagined by celebrated architect Renzo Piano and now houses the museum’s galleries.
The museum’s big architectural wow is the giant glass-and-steel dome that Piano designed for the museum’s two theaters. Connected to the Saban Building by a span known as the Barbra Streisand Bridge, this giant orb has become an instant Instagram favorite, as has the panorama from the dome’s terrace, which, appropriately enough, takes in the Hollywood Sign.
Drawing from a collection of more than 13 million film-related objects, the museum is a repository of many of Hollywood’s most famous props, costumes, and artifacts. They range from the ruby slippers that Judy Garland clicked the heels of together three times to return to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz to the bathrobe and shorts that Jeff Bridges wore throughout The Big Lebowski (one scene from that movie was shot across Fairfax at the Googie-style Johnie’s Coffee Shop).
A 25-foot mechanical fiberglass shark from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was salvaged from a junkyard and now hangs in the museum lobby, and you can also see General Okoye’s costume from Black Panther. And for science fiction fans, the museum is absolutely out of this world: The Encounters gallery displays the original E.T., C-3PO, and R2-D2 costumes, as well as dozens of other iconic pop culture treasures.
Serious cinephiles will also find plenty of rarities: the Rosebud sled from Citizen Kane, a To Kill a Mockingbird script extensively annotated by Gregory Peck, a display of 20 historically significant Oscar statuettes, and a wood-and-brass Cinématographe Lumière—a combination camera, projector, and printer from the 1890s.
Be sure to check out the museum’s schedule of installations and rotating exhibitions. Academy Award–winning Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar created a special multichannel installation focused on his work, while Director’s Inspiration: Spike Lee examines that Oscar winner’s long career with displays of props, costumes, and other items from his personal collection. An inaugural retrospective on Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki showcased 300 objects from his long career, including many never shown outside Japan. And Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971 puts the vital contributions of Black filmmakers to American cinema into new perspective.
Screenings and Acceptance Speeches
The museum’s two state-of-the-art theaters host a busy schedule of screenings, including Saturday’s ongoing Family Matinee series and Sunday showings of Oscar-winning films. Speaking of which, The Oscars Experience ($15) uses the magic of special effects to transport you to Hollywood’s night of nights, where you can hold one of the coveted eight-and-a-half-pound statuettes and deliver an acceptance speech in front of a virtual audience of industry bigwigs.
Spoiler alert: You’ll have to give the Oscar back, but you do receive a video of your big moment.
Celebrate your Oscar win at the museum’s Fanny’s Restaurant & Cafe, a gorgeous two-story space that blends contemporary design and Hollywood history, most notably the red wraparound booths that evoke the fabled Brown Derby (a chain of L.A. restaurants popular during much of the past century) and a huge mural depicting film legends.
While you’re in the Miracle Mile district, give yourself time to explore this fascinating part of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is right next door, and across Wilshire you can immerse yourself in the city’s car culture at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Step back into L.A.’s distant past at the La Brea Tar Pits and see skeletons of dire wolves and saber-toothed cats at its museum. And about a half mile away, savor the eclectic flavors and vintage atmosphere at the Original Farmers’ Market, then go shopping and catch a movie at The Grove.