As America’s largest institution devoted to the art and science of moviemaking, there’s always something to see at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Its enthralling exhibitions and experiences turn the dream factory inside out, delving deep beyond the screen to reveal the diverse stories of the creative people and processes behind the films we love.
With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ collection of more than 13 million objects to draw upon, plus temporary exhibitions, two state-of-the-art theaters, special events, and an ever-changing calendar of programs and screenings, the 300,000-square-foot museum merits regular repeat visits.
Here are 10 things not to miss at the Academy Museum.
The architecture of the Academy Museum alone justifies a visit. Its striking exterior by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano suggests something extremely special within. The museum occupies the 250,000-square-foot former May Company department store, a historic Streamline Moderne structure at the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave. Dedicated as the Saban Building following a $50 million donation from philanthropists Cheryl and Haim Saban, its restoration included one third of the 350,000 gold-leaf mosaic tiles on its distinctive gold cylinder being meticulously replaced by their original Italian manufacturer. Piano also added the otherworldly Sphere. Overlaid with 1,500 multi-shaped glass shingles, this soaring structure houses the David Geffen Theater and the glass-domed Dolby Family Terrace, with views from the Hollywood Sign to the Getty Center.
2. Stories of Cinema Exhibition
Spanning three levels, Stories of Cinema is the Academy Museum’s ever-evolving core exhibition exploring narrative movies, documentaries, animation, and the arts and sciences behind them. It begins in the Grand Lobby of the Saban Building, where a towering glass-walled gallery and multiscreen experience serve as a free introduction. The second floor currently showcases "Significant Movies & Moviemakers" featuring Casablanca and Boyz N the Hood; "The Art of Moviemaking: The Godfather"; the history of the Academy Awards; and "Director's Inspiration: Agnès Varda."
3. Inventing Worlds & Characters
On the third level of Stories of Cinema, familiar characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO from the Star Wars universe; E.T. and Okoye from Black Panther are on view in the multi-room "Inventing Worlds & Characters" experience, alongside special installations by director Pedro Almodóvar and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir.
4. Collection Highlights
The Academy Museum draws upon not only its own incredible collection of film-related objects and technology, but also the unparalleled accumulation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, including literally millions of costumes, film reels, posters, props, production design drawing, screenplays and more. Get up close with evocative pieces of movie history like Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz; the menacing extraterrestrial headpiece worn in 1979’s Alien; the last surviving full-scale shark model from Jaws; an annotated page from Gregory Peck’s script for the controversial 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird; and the typewriter used by screenwriter Joseph Stefano for Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-shaping horror thriller Psycho.
5. The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection
The late Richard Balzer was a collector and author fascinated by anything related to visual entertainment. His 9,000-piece collection, gathered and meticulously preserved over more than 40 years, includes pre-cinema curiosities from Europe, Asia and America dating as far back as the 17th century. Built around Balzer’s vast labor of love, this (sometimes literally) illuminating exhibition explores the evolution of today’s cinematic experience through a long tradition of optical amusements including peepshows, flip books, zoetropes, and kaleidoscopes, and featuring a magic lantern show created specifically for this exhibition. While quaint today, for generations before the advent of projected movies these were devices of transporting, almost magical wonder.
6. Oscars® Experience
If you’re an avid Oscars watcher, you’ve surely wondered how it feels to be invited on stage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater to accept one of those iconic gold statuettes as the adoring world watches. The Academy Museum’s immersive Oscars Experience simulation is about as close as most of us will ever get to that sensation, from hearing your name called (and of course feigning surprise), to giddily accepting the award. You’ll even receive a video of the event to befuddle your friends and family with for years to come!
7. Fanny’s Restaurant & Café
The Academy Museum is so filled with conversation points that you’ll likely need a break and chat during your visit. Fanny’s Restaurant & Café is the place to digest all you’ve seen and discuss faves and raves with companions. Developed by celebrated restaurateurs Bill Chait and Carl Schuster, the striking two-story space features both small-group and communal tables, an art deco-style bar, and an intimate lounge area with cozy curved booths.
Enjoy cuisine and cocktails by Chef Raphael Francois and Julian Cox, respectively, amid the work of local artists and artisans. A fitting and spectacular mural by L.A. artist Konstantin Kakanias wraps around the dining area, celebrating film and music legends from classical Hollywood to the present day.
Every Sunday, Fanny's hosts "A Dinner You Can't Refuse," a family-style Sunday Supper inspired by The Godfather exhibit. The menu features a rotating selection of Italian specials and wines, plus cinema-inspired craft cocktails.
8. Backdrop: An Invisible Art
The double-height Hurd Gallery is needed to spotlight both the artistry and the contested imagery of a monumental Mt. Rushmore backdrop used in Alfred Hitchcock’s canonical 1959 spy thriller North by Northwest. This neck-craning exhibit also serves as a thought-provoking reminder of the often-overlooked role of such literally behind-the-scenes creations, and their creators, in the movies that have helped shape our world.
9. Academy Museum Store
The Academy Museum Store is about as far as you’ll get from the stereotypical fridge-magnets-and-shot-glasses gift shop. Instead, this carefully curated one-off wonder features specially designed merchandise, Oscars memorabilia, and other exclusive film-related treasures: clothing, furniture, accessories, vinyl records, home and office items, posters, maps, illustrations, toys and games, plus an unparalleled selection of books and catalogues. Academy members including costume designer Ruth E. Carter, creative director I. Javier Ameijeiras, and the legendary Spike Lee have complimented their cinematic work by designing items available nowhere else, while the store’s many California-based partners include Amoeba Music, candlemaker Flores Lane, and lifestyle brand Poketo.
10. See a Movie!
There are two spectacular, state-of-the-art theaters that serve as presentation spaces for major film events, public programs, live performances, movie premieres, and other special events with the world’s leading filmmakers.
The 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater is fully equipped to present film in many formats, including nitrate, 35mm, 70mm, and laser projection supporting Dolby Vision, which allows visitors to see the subtle details and ultra-vivid colors creating multi-dimensional visuals. The theater also features Dolby Atmos for a truly immersive audio experience.
Located in the Saban Building, the Ted Mann Theater serves as the museum’s most utilized theater. The 288-seat theater offers curated screenings and special programs on a daily basis that include Oscar-winning films, family films, and rare and historical films, all presented in an intimate, elegant art house setting.
For more information and tickets, visit the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures website.