As America’s largest institution devoted to the art and science of moviemaking, there’s always something to see at the new 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.
We looked at 10 things not to miss on your first time.
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. 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 the menacing extraterrestrial headpiece worn in 1979’s “Alien”; Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz”; the last surviving full-scale shark model from “Jaws”; an annotated page from Gregory Peck’s script for controversial 1962 classic “To Kill a Mockingbird”; and the typewriter used by screenwriter Joseph Stefano for Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-shaping horror thriller “Psycho.”
3. Stories of Cinema Exhibition
The multi-floor “Stories of Cinema” is the Academy Museum’s ever-evolving core exhibition exploring narrative movies, documentaries, animation, and the multifarious 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 the works and influences of Spike Lee; the history of the Academy Awards; the role and reflection of social issues in filmmaking; and, as a case study, the many disciplines that brought “The Wizard of Oz” to life. On the third floor, familiar faces like R2-D2, Bugs Bunny, and Okoye from “Black Panther” adorn the multi-room “Inventing Worlds & Characters” experience, alongside special installations by director Pedro Almodóvar, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, and sound designer Ben Burtt.
4. 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.
5. The 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!
6. 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 a menu overseen by Wolfgang Puck Catering 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.
7. 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 through-provoking reminder of oft-overlooked role of such literally behind-the-scenes creations, and their creators, in the movies that have helped shape our world.
8. 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.
9. Hayao Miyazaki
“Hayao Miyazaki” is the Academy Museum’s inaugural temporary exhibition and the first North American museum retrospective devoted to the work of its namesake: one of the most accomplished and internationally celebrated filmmakers in the history of animation. Organized in collaboration with Japan’s Studio Ghibli, which the Oscar-winning Miyazaki co-founded in 1985, it features more than 300 objects – original imageboards, character designs, backgrounds, layouts, storyboards, posters, and cels –, including pieces being displayed outside Japan for the first time. The most comprehensive presentation of Miyazaki’s work to date, this retrospective of a nearly 60-year career incorporates all his animated feature films into a series of immersive environments designed to be both experiential and educational.
10. Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 (opening 2022)
The first of its kind, “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971” is an in-depth, research-driven exploration of Black participation in American filmmaking. Opening in 2022, it reveals the important yet all too often unsung history of African American filmmakers in the development of this country’s cinema, from its early days to just after the civil rights movement. “Regeneration” highlights the work of independent African American filmmakers, with the goal of redefining US film history by elevating this underrepresented aspect of artistic production and presenting a more inclusive story.
For more information and tickets, please visit the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures website.