Odeon Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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Odeon Leicester Square

The Odeon Leicester Square was the ‘flagship’ cinema of Oscar Deutsch’s chain of Odeon Theatres Ltd. It was built on the site of the Alhambra Theatre (1883-1936). Designed by architects Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather, the Odeon opened for business on 2nd November 1937 with the feature “The Prisoner of Zenda” starring Ronald Colman. The seating capacity at opening was for 2,116 (1,140 in the stalls and 976 in the balcony) and the seats were covered in mock leopard-skin!

It dominates Leicester Square with its 120 feet tall tower, and the entire facade and tower covered in black granite slabs.

Over the years there have been many alterations to the interior of the cinema, including an ill-fated £200,000 ‘zing’ treatment in 1967 which removed practically the entire original decorations. Only the elaborately painted safety curtain remains original today (and that is rarely seen or used). The last film to play in the original auditorium was Audrey Hepburn in “Two for the Road” on 20th September 1967. It re-opened with a gala premiere of “Smashing Time” with Rita Tushingham & Lynn Redgrave on 27th December 1967 with a stage show featuring Cliff Richard & the Shadows.

The projection equipment includes a Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 (two projectors plus a standby machine, with large capacity spools, and in addition a platter for running 70mm as and when necessary). It is also equipped to play digital presentations, VHS, DVD and 16mm.

All digital sound formats are supported, including 8 channel SDDS. Full stage facilities are available, as the screen and stage speakers are designed to retract. There is the forementioned safety curtain, a set of house curtains and a set of screen curtains. The stage has had occasional use over the years, one occasion being during World War II when Bob Hope, Adolphe Menjou and the Glenn Miller Orchestra took to the stage, and entertained an audience which included Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower.

The Odeon also contains its original Compton 5Manual/17Rank organ, with illuminated console on a lift, Melotone, and a Grand Piano which was opened by organist James Bell. It is still played on special events, accompanying silent films and occasionally during premiere presentations.

On 20th April 1990, five additional screens were added to the Odeon, built at an alleyway running between Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road and named the Odeon Mezzanine and have their own separate page on Cinema Treasures (now known as Odeon Studios Leicester Square).

In April 1998, the building was renovated and copies of the ‘Flying Ladies’ sculptures were re-instated on the side-walls and some of the concealed lighting in troughs in the ceiling were re-lit.

Always a first run cinema, initially the films played were mainly United Artist productions. Later it premiered many films from the Rank Organisation, who took over Odeon Theatres in 1941 on the death of Oscar Deutsch. From 1946 and for many years, it alternated each year with the Empire Theatre across Leicester Square to host the Royal Film Performance. The Empire Theatre was dropped from this honour after it was modernised in 1961. The Royal Film Performance is an Annual event, unique to the United Kingdom. The film industry invites the reigning monarch or a leading member/members of Royalty to attend a performance of an unseen film, the attending audience pay big money to participate in the event, the money made goes to charity. Many film stars and personalities also attend this glittering event.

Some early Royal Film Performances at the Odeon Leicester Square have been: 1947 Cary Grant in “The Bishops Wife”, 1951 Dinah Sheridan in “Where No Vultures Fly”, 1953 Richard Todd in “Rob Roy The Highland Rogue”, 1955 Cary Grant in “To Catch A Thief”, 1957 Gene Kelly in “Les Girls”, 1966 Virginia McKenna in “Born Free”, 1962 Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” in Panavision 70, 1967 Elizabeth Taylor in “The Taming of the Shrew”, 1968 Leonard Whiting in “Romeo and Juliet”, 1969 Maggie Smith in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, 1970 Richard Burton in “Anne of the Thousand Days”, 1971 Ali MacGraw in “Love Story”, 1972 Vanessa Redgrave in “Mary, Queen of Scots” in 70mm, 1973 Peter Finch in “Lost Horizon” in 70mm, 1974 Michael York in “The Three Musketeers”, 1975 Barbra Streisand “Funny Lady” in 70mm, 1976 Richard Chamberlain in “The Slipper and the Rose”, 1977 Gene Wilder in “Silver Streak”, 1978 Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 70mm, 1979 Michael Caine in “California Suite”, 1980 Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer vs Kramer”, 1981 Ben Cross in “Chariots of Fire”, 1982 Peter Usinov in “Evil Under the Sun”, 1983 Jon Voight in “Table For Five”,1984 Albert Finney in “The Dresser”, 1985 Judy Davis in “A Passage To India”, 1986 Mikhail Baryshnikov in “White Nights” and in 1987 Anne Bancroft in “84 Charing Cross Road”.

Other important events at the Odeon Leicester Square have been:
Gala European Premiere 27/8/53 “Melba"
European Premiere 19/11/53 "The Robe"
World Premiere 01/03/56 "A Town Like Alice"
Royal World Premiere 22/03/56 "Alexander The Great"
World Premier 24/05/56 "Storm Centre"
Charity World Premiere 05/07/56 "Reach For The Sky"
European Premiere 06/09/56 "Oklahoma"
World Premiere 13/03/57 "Fortune is a Woman"
Royal World Premiere 29/05/58 "The Key"
Gala World Premiere 30/12/59 "Our Man In Havana"
Royal World Premiere 11/02/60 "Sink the Bismark"
Royal World Premiere 05/01/61 "The Singer Not the Song"
Gala World Premiere 05/04/61 "The Greengage Summer"
Royal World Premiere 27/04/61 "The Guns of Naverone"
Royal World Premiere 04/01/62 "The Valiant"
Gala World Premiere 22/02/62 "HMS Defiant"
Royal World Premiere 10/12/62 "Lawrence of Arabia” in Super Panavision 70
Gala World Premiere 20/06/63 “The Great Escape"
Gala World Premiere 17/09/64 "Goldfinger"
Royal World Premiere 23/11/65 "The Heroes of Telemark"
World Premiere 5/05/66 "Modesty Blaise"
Gala British Premiere 30/06/66 "The Blue Max"
European Premiere 11/08/66 "Torn Curtain"
Gala World Premiere 10/11/66 "The Quiller Memorandum"
Gala World Premiere 27/01/67 "The Night of the Generals"
Royal World Premiere 12/06/67 "You Only Live Twice"
Gala Premiere 27/12/67 "Smashing Time"
Royal World Premiere 10/04/68 "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
Royal World Premiere 26/09/68 "Oliver"
Royal World Premiere 16/12/68 "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"
Royal World Premiere 18/12/69 "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service"
Royal World Premiere 16/07/70 "Cromwell” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 26/10/70 “Waterloo” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 13/01/71 “Murphy’s War"
World Premiere 07/10/71 "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"
Royal World Premiere 29/11/71 "Nicholas and Alexandra"
Gala World Premiere 20/07/72 "Young Winston"
Royal World Premiere 05/07/73 "Live and Let Die”
Royal World Premiere 08/08/74 “Caravan to Vaccares"
Gala World Premiere 05/09/74 "Gold"
Royal World Premiere 01/05/75 "Paper Tiger"
Royal European Premiere 18/12/75 "The Man Who Would Be King"
Gala World Premiere 13/04/76 "Shout at the Devil"
Royal World Premiere 16/12/76 "The Pink Panther Strikes Again"
Royal World Premiere 13/07/78 "Revenge of the Pink Panther"
Royal World Premiere 26/06/79 "Moonraker"
Royal World Premiere 18/12/79 "The Black Hole” in 70mm
Royal European Premiere 20/05/80 “The Empire Srikes Back” in 70mm
Gala World Premiere 17/12/80 “The Dogs of War"
Gala European Premiere 09/04/81 "Popeye"
Royal European Premiere 07/07/82 "Annie” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 26/08/82 “Who Dares Wins"
Royal European Premiere 02/12/82 "Ghandi” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 06/06/83 “Octopussy"
Royal World Premiere 01/03/84 "Champions"
World Premier 28/03/85 "Not Quite Jerusalem"
World Premiere 19/03/87 "The Fourth Protocol"
Royal World Premiere 29/06/87 "The Living Daylights"
Gala World Premiere 03/09/87 "Hope and Glory”

There are many, many, more and of course in more recent years the Odeon Leicester Square has become ‘the’ place for premieres, which seem to happen weekly!

The final regular film show was on 8th January, 2018 with “Star Wars:The Last Jedi”. On 9th January 2018 the European Premiere of “The Post” was attended by Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg. After which the Odeon was closed to be renovated & remodeled.

The rear stalls seating area has been taken over by new toilets, a switch room and larger concession area. The former front stalls is now 259 recliner seats on nine rows. The front of the circle (Royal Circle) now has three rows of 90 recliner seats. The rear circle has 446 regular seats on fourteen rows. Total seating capacity has been reduced to 794 + 6 disabled spaces (reduced from 1,683 seats of recent years). The Odeon Leicester Square was re-opened on 21st December 2018 as a Dolby Cinema with Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns”. The pre-film organ interlude had the refurbished Compton organ played by organist Donald MacKenzie. The World Premiere of “Alita-Battle Angel” starring Rosa Salazar & Christolph Waltz was held here on 31st January 2019.

The adjacent Odeon Mezzanine screens have been renamed Screens 2 – 5 Odeon Leicester Square(they have their own page on Cinema Treasures). It also re-opened on 21st December 2018 and have a reduced seating capacity of 116 in four screens.

The International Premiere of the Netflix film “The Irishman” was held on 13th October 2019, closing the 2019 BFI London Film Festival. The stars and director of the film attended.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 732 comments)

CF100
CF100 on May 11, 2020 at 5:01 pm

Lionel:

Everything fine for me here.

Good to hear. :–)

I’m a bit scared that Amazon would now own Odeon because this megalodon is just getting bigger and bigger. Didn’t it want to create a bank too? AMC is currently owned by the Chinese. Curious how the outcome will look like.

Wanda Group (of China) does have a large stake in Odeon Group’s parent, AMC. However, they are massively indebted.

Nikkei Asian Review – No fastpass: Cinema closures dent Wanda’s dream of beating Disney.

As for Amazon—yes, they do seem to be taking over the world—but (whilst published over a year ago) this might be of interest…

Amazon Prime subscribers are a higher social class than Netflix viewers, research finds.

As long as Curzon survives and remains independent, there is hope for good quality cinema.

I’m afraid Curzon was acquired last year by the American company Cohen Media Group…

CP200
CP200 on May 14, 2020 at 4:41 am

cinema gear soon on sell on ebay cheaper than fish n' chips. Oh bound to happen. I don’t even watch tom cruise movies no more looks like top gun 2 is a flop opens in december now? I doubt many care about cinema now? Home cinema is the future. RIP odeon and Empire 1, gutted for a l i e m a x video wall.

curmudgeon
curmudgeon on May 14, 2020 at 5:56 am

CP200 I tend to agree with your pessimistic outlook. Younger audiences are becoming more attuned to cheaper downloading, and highly successful programmes not available for theatrical release. Why pay huge admission prices when streaming on demand is available 24/7? I’m a dinosaur still addicted to my DVD’s but love the opportunity to see my favourites any time I wish. Modern cinemas can’t offer the magic any more. i.e curtains, masking and general lack of showmanship. It’s been a downward slide for many years now, and I fear the covid 19 lockdowns coule be the final death of cinema going.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 14, 2020 at 6:53 am

I doubt it. There will always be a need for the shared communal experience. Cinemas will always exist in some form, as will pubs. I was often asked why I was going into a dying industry when I started as a cinema manager in 1974.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 14, 2020 at 7:11 am

Same here Al when back in 1965 I left a ‘job for life’ as a skilled engineer at Rolls Royce and joined the Rank Organisation as a Trainee Assistant Manager (at half the wages I was getting at R.R.). My father said “you are going into a dying industry, as cinemas were closing down”. I stayed in ‘the business’ until 2000.

CF100
CF100 on May 14, 2020 at 5:58 pm

It’s not hard to come up with market sectors that cinemas make for an attractive choice. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Younger professionals in urban settings, limited space in their dwelling, “active” out of home lifestyle… premium cinemas with quality bar/food areas for socialising, comfortable auditoria and suitably specialised programming.
  • Technologies that are virtually impossible to implement at home, e.g. 4DX. Yes, the serious cinephile will turn their nose up—but it was launched more than 10 years ago in Korea, and I bet that kids love it and pester their parents into visiting 4DX-equipped auditoria.

One could also point out the billion dollar box office takings of the various “tentpole” movies, or the success of “Unlimited” card programmes, etc…


The latest audio/visual formats for consumer distribution (e.g. Ultra HD Blu-ray) are fantastic and cinemas are definitely falling behind in some respects. Still, as an overall event that leaves an indelible mark, going to a cinema like the OLS is very different to watching a film at home.


I do think cinemas and the industry will adapt and change.

Currently, though, I’m just dreaming of the day that I can actually visit a cinema again…


An update on the Amazon/AMC rumour:

Which AMC?! TV Company Stock Pops, Theater Circuit Dips After Amazon Rumor Gets Rewrite.

CF100
CF100 on May 14, 2020 at 6:10 pm

curmudgeon:

Modern cinemas can’t offer the magic any more. i.e curtains, masking and general lack of showmanship.

Whilst the tabs situation at the OLS is regrettable, and I know it’s not what you mean by “showmanship,” the “showmanship” at the OLS starts before entering the building. And what is something like the video display feature on the escalator landing if not showmanship? Or the entrance to the Royal Circle?

These help set the mood before the feature; one has escaped the outside world and stepped into wonderland…

terry
terry on May 15, 2020 at 6:30 am

And a band playing “Believe It If You Like!”……

CP200
CP200 on July 26, 2020 at 1:26 am

Is this place ever gonna hide all those speakers dangling from the ceiling looks so tacky and cheap I never liked odeon leicester square has worst sightline worst sound worst feel of the sound worst seating and totally overrated and overpriced for rich people who must have worst flat screen tv at home with a soundbar

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