Go On Location: Los Angeles Theatres Starring in the Movies

The Cinerama Dome in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
The Cinerama Dome is ready for its close-up in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" | Photo: @thejslewis, Twitter

For decades, these historic theaters were the first choice for Los Angeles moviegoers. Many of them are now spectacular live music and special event venues, while one continues to serve as a popular movie house. Read more about how these theaters played starring roles in the very movies shown on their screens.

The Cinerama Dome in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
The Cinerama Dome is ready for its close-up in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" | Photo: @thejslewis, Twitter

Cinerama Dome

The first and only theatre of its kind in the world, Pacific Theatres' Cinerama Dome (6360 W Sunset Blvd, Hollywood 90028) opened on Nov. 7, 1963 with the premiere of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Since then, the Dome has hosted more than five decades of premieres and blockbusters. The Cinerama Dome was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in December 1998.

Still under the ownership of Pacific Theatres, the Dome was renovated and reopened as part of ArcLight Hollywood in March 2002 with state-of-the-art projection and sound. The signature marquee and portico on Sunset Boulevard, the 316 hexagons in the famous geodesic dome, and the deeply curved screen (32 x 86 feet!) were all restored to their original specs. The Dome seats more than 800 guests per showing and has maintained the historic loge seating - a favorite of moviegoers over the years.

Watch: The Dome is Quentin Tarantino's favorite movie theatre, so it's no surprise it made a cameo appearance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The exterior was dressed for the premiere of the disaster film Krakatoa, East of Java which was released on May 14, 1969.

TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX in Hollywood
Photo: TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX

TCL Chinese Theatre

Thousands of people lined Hollywood Boulevard for the grand opening of TCL Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood 90028) - then known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre - on May 18, 1927. The film being premiered that night was Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings, which was preceded by a live prologue devised by owner Sid Grauman. The theatre opened to the public the following day, May 19th. Besides its Chinese design, the theatre’s most distinct feature is the famous Forecourt to the Stars, with nearly 200 celebrity handprints, footprints, and autographs immortalized in the concrete. From Marilyn Monroe to Tom Hanks, Betty Grable’s legs to Jimmy Durante’s nose, Sid Grauman helped Hollywood leave its impression not only on Los Angeles, but the world.

Watch: At the climax of Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy classic Blazing Saddles, Cleavon Little has a final showdown with Harvey Korman in the Forecourt to the Stars.

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Photo courtesy of Didier Tais for LA Tourism

The Mayan

Opened as a movie palace in 1927, the spectacular Mayan Theatre (1038 S Hill St, Los Angeles 90015) was designed by Stiles O. Clements, who also designed the Pellissier Building, home of the Wiltern Theatre. Artist Francisco Cornejo created the Mayan and Mexican-themed architectural details. The auditorium’s stunning ceiling piece is modeled after an Aztec calendar stone, while the sacred Quetzal bird and other ancient symbols can be seen as ornamentation throughout the venue. The Mayan now hosts special events, music and DJ performances.

Watch: In the 1992 film The Bodyguard, Kevin Costner is hired to protect Whitney Houston from a crazed stalker. Houston’s character defies the threats and performs a concert in scenes that were filmed at the Mayan.

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Photo courtesy of Derick Snow for LA Tourism

The Wiltern

Originally built in 1931, The Wiltern (3790 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles 90010) is located near Koreatown at the corner of Wilshire and Western, directly across from the Wilshire/Western station of the Metro Rail Purple Line. Designed by architect Stiles O. Clements (who also designed the Mayan and the El Capitan), the Wiltern and the adjacent 12-story Pellissier Building are considered among the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the country. The Wiltern’s interior was designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, who also designed the Shrine Auditorium. Perhaps the most dramatic element of the design is the sunburst on the ceiling of the auditorium, with each ray representing its own Art Deco skyscraper - Lansburgh’s vision of Wilshire Blvd. Both the Wiltern Theatre and the Pellissier Building have been named to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles.

Watch: In Joel and Ethan Coen's 1991 film Barton Fink, the Wiltern lobby stands in as the lobby of the Hotel Earle, which has the motto "A day or a lifetime." Steve Buscemi plays the desk clerk when Turturro, newly-arrived in Los Angeles, checks into the Earle.

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Photo courtesy of Mark Peacock, Flickr

El Rey Theatre

First opened as a movie house in 1936, the El Rey Theatre (5515 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles 90036) was designed by Clifford A. Balch, known for designing over twenty Art Deco movie houses around Southern California. After nearly 50 years as a first run movie theater, the Art Deco gem was converted to a live music venue in 1994. The El Rey was designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 520 on February 26, 1991.

Watch: An homage to classic B-movies of the 1950s and 60s, Night of the Comet has itself become a cult classic since its 1984 release. The main character Reggie works at a movie theatre, “played” by the El Rey.

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Photo courtesy of Josephe Voves, Flickr

Aero Theatre

Located in the upscale Montana Avenue shopping neighborhood, the Aero Theatre (1328 Montana Ave, Santa Monica 90403) was opened in 1939 by Donald Douglas to provide easily-accessible entertainment for workers at his Santa Monica aircraft plant. During World War II, the Aero was open 24 hours a day. After a $1-million renovation, the Aero is now run by American Cinematheque and features classics, film festivals and special events.

Watch: In the 2001 thriller Donnie Darko, Jake Gyllenhaal narrowly avoids an outrageous accidental death, thanks to the mysterious "Frank." The Aero was the site for key scenes filmed in a movie theatre.