Odeon BFI London IMAX Cinema

1 Charlie Chaplin Walk,
London, SE1 8XR

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Related Websites

Odeon Theatres UK (Official), British Film Institute - IMAX (Official)

Additional Info

Operated by: Odeon Theatres Ltd.

Architects: Bryan Avery

Firms: Avery Associates Architects

Functions: Movies, Movies (First Run)

Previous Names: BFI London IMAX Cinema

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 440330.333.7878

Nearby Theaters

Odeon BFI London IMAX Cinema

Operated by the British Film Institute, the BFI London IMAX Cinema is housed in an unusual circular building which is glazed on the exterior. It is located in the centre of a busy traffic round-a-bout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames, and access is gained by under the road passages. The BFI London IMAX Cinema boasts it has the ‘largest screen in the UK…the height of 5 double-decker buses’. It opened on 1st May 1999.

IMAX and 3D IMAX format films play in repertory programming and the cinema also features an increasing number of presentations of the latest releases, which are shown on the giant IMAX screen (but not in the IMAX format).

From 19th July 2012 the Odeon Theatres chain began a 5-year fixed time concession to operate the cinema. It has now been equipped with an IMAX 3D digital projector and a new 20 metres tall x 26 metres wide IMAX digital screen, the largest screen in Great Britain. 70mm film IMAX projectors have been retained for occasional use.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on June 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Thanks so much CF100 for the detailed reply and comparison of projection and sound systems at BFI IMAX and Cineworld ‘Empire’ Leicester Square.

On top of the fact that most Marvel movies seem to have been colour regraded to look flat, perhaps the lower resolution of 3D at BFI IMAX without an IMAX with Laser system contributed to the picture looking so dull?

Have watched that BritishFilmInstitute youtube video before. There’s a brief glimpse of a row of rocker-style switches labelled audio channels 1 to 6 followed by a switch for Sub 1&2 and then another for Sub 3&4. Surely they are for subwoofers (LFE channel)? They state the new (current) BFI IMAX screen weighed 800kg yet the Empire, Leicester Square IMAX screen only weighed 215kg. That’s some difference considering the screen widths are almost identical and the BFI screen is only approximately 5m taller than the Leicester Square one.

In a few months (Aug 2018?) a brand new 9-screen (40,000 sq ft and 1,500 seats) Cineworld cinema is opening in Watford which will include an IMAX high definition screen seating 450. Plan to check that out as soon as it opens. It’s not far from Cineworld (previously an Empire Cinema) in Hemel Hempstead which is the IMAX cinema that I have visited the most over the past couple of years.

CF100
CF100 on June 5, 2018 at 5:35 pm

Thanks so much CF100 for the detailed reply and comparison of projection and sound systems at BFI IMAX and Cineworld ‘Empire’ Leicester Square.

You’re welcome. :–)

On top of the fact that most Marvel movies seem to have been colour regraded to look flat, perhaps the lower resolution of 3D at BFI IMAX without an IMAX with Laser system contributed to the picture looking so dull?

Resolution shouldn’t affect that. OTOH e.g. better contrast does yield improved perceived resolution.

The (Xenon lamp) IMAX Digital projectors used at the BFI might be previous generation; whilst IMAX just brand all the projectors as “IMAX Digital” the internals do change. Maybe the lamps are due for replacement soon? The use of polarisation for 3D doesn’t help either.

Have watched that BritishFilmInstitute youtube video before. There’s a brief glimpse of a row of rocker-style switches labelled audio channels 1 to 6 followed by a switch for Sub 1&2 and then another for Sub 3&4. Surely they are for subwoofers (LFE channel)?

I did visit the booth at the BFI IMAX a few years ago, I vaguely remember asking the projectionist about them but I’ve forgotten his response! Incidentally, the booth was absolutely spotless.

They state the new (current) BFI IMAX screen weighed 800kg yet the Empire, Leicester Square IMAX screen only weighed 215kg. That’s some difference considering the screen widths are almost identical and the BFI screen is only approximately 5m taller than the Leicester Square one.

I see the 800kg figure on the BFI site; where did you get the figure for the Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square?

The BFI screen was coated in situ with silver paint for 3D, the Leicester Square one wasn’t as the laser projection system doesn’t use polarisation for 3D.

In a few months (Aug 2018?) a brand new 9-screen (40,000 sq ft and 1,500 seats) Cineworld cinema is opening in Watford which will include an IMAX high definition screen seating 450. Plan to check that out as soon as it opens. It’s not far from Cineworld (previously an Empire Cinema) in Hemel Hempstead which is the IMAX cinema that I have visited the most over the past couple of years.

Thank you for the info, I wasn’t aware that the old Charter Place shopping centre next to intu Watford was finally being redone, it’s been floating around as a proposal for years.

Planning Application.

Looking at the “APPROVED PROPOSED CINEMA LEVEL 2 PLAN” document, Auditorium 1 is the largest; 433 seats. Screen width I’d estimate to be as much as 80ft.!

Wonder what will happen to the Vue Watford? The area might at risk of becoming overscreened albeit Auditoria 4-9 in the above linked plans aren’t very big.

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on June 6, 2018 at 2:15 am

The video you linked to above showing the installation of the IMAX projector at The Empire, Leicester Square mentions the screen weight of 215kg.

I had hoped that the new IMAX screen in Watford would be a decent size seen as it’s being installed in a newly built cinema rather than a retrofit. IMAX with Laser and 12-channel sound system along with luxury seats would be icing on the cake. Fingers-crossed!

Have been to Vue, Watford a bunch of times in the past but not often since Empire Cinemas (later changed hands to Cineworld in 2016 as part of the deal which saw them take over The Empire, Leicester Square) took over the old Odeon in Hemel Hempstead. It’s been extended (now 17-screens including IMAX and SUPERSCREEN) and completely refurbished inside. The foyer area is massive and includes an impressive looking curved canopy with LED screens installed which advertise movies etc. They’ve also opened a Starbucks inside. There’s a large Pizza Express directly next door. Large free car park down the side. There’s a few large business premises here which have been empty since they were built. Wonder what, if anything, is planned to open there?

Going back to Vue, Watford. They only have a couple of reasonably sized screens. Screen 8 which seats 288, screen 2 seats 250, and screen 1 seats 221. Majority of the movies I’ve watched there were on screen 8 otherwise I would go elsewhere. Think this was originally a 5-screen multiplex opened as a Warner Village back in the 90’s? I remember it was one of the few cinemas in the country at the time to be showing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in Dolby Digital EX which added an extra rear centre channel (6.1) so I decided to make that movie my first visit to this cinema. The customer service has left a lot to be desired at peak times. I would not be surprised in the least if attendance figures drop through the floor once the new Cineworld opens. Can’t see anything less than a complete refurbishment turning Vue, Watford into anything that will equal or better the Cineworld. Free parking will be one of the only advantages Vue have over Cineworld. Paying for parking when watching movies at the cinema is one thing I strongly dislike. It would usually prevent me from watching two or more movies in one visit especially during the day.

CF100
CF100 on June 6, 2018 at 4:00 pm

LARGE_screen_format:

The video you linked to above showing the installation of the IMAX projector at The Empire, Leicester Square mentions the screen weight of 215kg.

So it does. :–)

Just doing a quick Google search, Harkness (for instance) say their screens weigh 0.5kg/m2, so:

Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square IMAX – 26.5mx15.6m = 413.4 m2 – at 0.5kg/m2 around 200kg or so and therefore about the same as the weight quoted in the video.

The extra height of the BFI would add about another 50kg, so I suspect the 800kg figure is erroneous.

IMAX with Laser rollout has been very slow and it will be interesting to see if Watford gets it at opening.

Cineworld have just signed an agreement for a number of IMAX with Laser installations (for new and existing sites) and I expect that this mostly relates to the scaled down version that IMAX have said they will provide for smaller venues rather than the existing design for full size/classic “Grand Theatre” IMAXs. The Xenon-based IMAX Digital projectors will work fine with an 80ft. screen, though.

Not surprised by your comments on the Vue Watford! I suspect Vue won’t throw capex at it but if they do then perhaps luxury seating would be a good route for them to take.

I expect Cineworld Watford will cover a few hours of free parking, but not enough to cover seeing multiple features in one session—but perhaps you could leave the car park and reenter it to get another ticket for validation?!

CF100
CF100 on October 27, 2018 at 7:02 pm

The BFI IMAX is available to hire via Headbox.com, starting at a mere £6200.

Included in the above-linked page is a gallery of high resolution (if not having sufficient depth of field!) photos.

joeswin
joeswin on June 6, 2019 at 6:49 am

A new development on this site appears to be in the very early stages, and may never happen – would be a shame if they got rid of this cinema.

https://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/9927

CF100
CF100 on July 15, 2019 at 2:11 pm

joeswin: I heard rumours about a potential redevelopment some months ago; however, at that time, the only information appeared to be the “Waterloo—Building Height Study, 2018” in which Lambeth Council lists potentially suitable high rise locations. I assumed that these locations were identified on the basis of, e.g. protected sightlines (St. Paul’s, etc.) rather than an indication that any proposals would be forthcoming.


Spending £500K (between Lambeth and TfL) on a feasibility study, as claimed in the article, would seem to be a large sum without a serious prospect of taking a scheme forward.

Alas, the article does not cite any sources, nor can I find any other material to confirm the story.

The article does note that BFI have a 150 year lease on the site, and, further, “the BFI will be invited to be a consultee but will be bound by a tripartite confidentiality agreement with TfL and Lambeth.”

So, it would remain to be seen if any scheme incorporates a replacement, à la Sydney Harbour.

Internally, the auditorium itself is a textbook IMAX with little of unique interest, and the foyer/circulatory areas are, in my view, bland.

However, externally and taken as a whole it must be considered a unique piece of “real architecture” woven into a difficult setting… it works since you leave the busy surrounding area into a “sub-grade” oasis leading to the cinema.


It has been placed on the 20th Century Society top 10 at risk list.


I can’t imagine anything less than a tremendous public outcry—the building is absolutely an iconic London landmark (arguably more than any other operating cinema, including the Odeon Leicester Square—not to say it is “better,” simply that it could be stuck on a montage with the “London Eye” and “Big Ben.”)

Alas, it would seem to be not quite old enough to be listed; to quote Historic England, “Buildings less than 30 years old are not normally considered to be of special architectural or historic interest because they have yet to stand the test of time,” which may explain an apparent eagerness to start working up a replacement now.


The prospect of a replacement may also explain why BFI still haven’t upgraded to IMAX with Laser projection, albeit it could always be moved over? If there were to be a replacement, then one could well imagine that the 15/70 GT projector would fall by the wayside due to its size and weight.

rivest266
rivest266 on August 5, 2021 at 10:20 am

1999 newspaper contest ad posted.

CF100
CF100 on November 5, 2021 at 1:33 pm

Full “Dollhouse” 3D tour available on private bookings site:

3D Tour.

In addition to the cross-sectional 3D reconstruction, many 360° photos throughout the publicly-accessible areas can be seen.


Looking at photos of the auditorium, it appears that some more recent changes have been made. The sidewall fabric looks darker, and new decorative lighting added.

The screen frame and speakers are visible, including the “Kanga” speakers for GT venues. (The older IMAX “Proportional Point Source” speakers were replaced in 2012 when a new screen was installed.)

Non-IMAX speakers can also be seen, including the very strange arrangement of two sets of screen speakers with neither of the two centre speakers quite centrally positioned, as well as the rear array on the auditorium side/back walls.

Obviously, no IMAX sides/overheads as IMAX with Laser upgrade has not occurred, hence 12 channel IMAX audio is not supported.

CF100
CF100 on November 5, 2021 at 1:37 pm

According to an article published on the 1st September 2021, which links to reports from Lambeth Council, feasibility studies for an “office-led” scheme encompassing the IMAX site continue, with a further £150,000 funding allocated.

One may still be slightly puzzled as to why laser light source projection has not been installed, for it could always be moved over to any replacement venue built as part of such a scheme, and it has been six years since the IMAX GT dual-laser projection system was installed in Leicester Square…

But it does seem to be the most likely explanation for the lack of substantial investment in this ever-popular venue; another example being the auditorium seating, which looks very tired.

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