Cineworld Cinema - Leicester Square

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Empire Cinema

The Empire Theatre was designed and built as a music hall by architect Thomas Verity and could seat 3,000. It opened on 17th April 1884. The old Pit seating entrance can still be seen today if you go around to the left of the theatre into Leicester Street. In 1893 a new facade and foyer was built on Leicester Square, designed by Frank T. Verity. This facade and entrance is what is seen today, as on 22nd January 1927, the old Empire Theatre was closed, after it had been taken over by Loew’s Inc. in 1925. The auditorium was demolished and a new one built to the plans of Scottish born theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb (from the USA) assisted by F.W. Boettcher (from the UK) and associated architect was Frederick G.M. Chancellor of the noted UK theatre architectural firm Frank Matcham & Company.

The new Empire Theatre opened on 8th November 1928 with Norma Shearer in “Trelawney of the Wells” and for the following 33 years became the London premier home to MGM feature films. It housed 3,330 seats in its massive and decorative auditorium. There were 1,916 seats in the stalls, 180 loge seats in the front of the circle and the remainder of the circle seated 1,234. The Empire Theatre had a fully equipped stage and for a period in the late-1940’s until February 1952, it was put to full use when a stage show accompanied the main feature film. The proscenium was 54 feet wide and the stage 35 feet deep. It was equipped with a WurliTzer 4Manual/21Rank organ. The Leicester Square landmark also had an opulent lobby and all the normal regalia of an American movie palace, its interior resembled the Adam style Thomas Lamb designed Capitol Theatre in Manhattan, New York, its exterior is in the Italian Renaissance style.

Of course, as the Empire Theatre was Loew’s premier theatre in the UK, all the MGM films which opened at the Empire Theatre over the years were UK premiere presentations, as were the occasional productions from other studios, but there were also many special premieres: the first of these being a midnight charity premiere-4th September 1935 Eleanor Powell in “Broadway Melody of 1936”, gala late night premiere-31st March 1938 Robert Taylor “A Yank at Oxford”, evening premiere-concurrent with the Palace Theatre and the Ritz Cinema 18th April 1940 Vivien Leigh “Gone With the Wind” (which ran at the Empire Theatre for 12 weeks), Charity Premiere-10th August 1944 Irene Dunne “The White Cliffs of Dover”, Royal Command Performance (the first to be held)-1st November 1946 David Niven “A Matter of Life and Death”, Royal Command Performance-29th November 1948 John Mills “Scott of the Antarctic”, Royal Command Performance-30th October 1950 Irene Dunne “The Mudlark”, Royal Premiere-12th June 1952 Robert Taylor “Ivanhoe”, Royal Film Performance-27th October 1952 Mario Lanza “Because Your Mine”, Royal Film Performance-15th November 1954 Stewart Granger “Beau Brummel”, Royal World Premiere-16th May 1955 Richard Todd “The Dam Busters”, Royal Charity Premiere-16th November 1955 Jose Ferrer “Cockleshell Heroes”, Gala Charity Premiere-19th September 1956 Marlon Brando “Guys and Dolls”, Royal Charity Premiere-29th June 1957 Marlon Brando “Teahouse of the August Moon”, The Royal Film Performance-2nd February 1959 Alec Guinness “The Horses Mouth”.

A Gala European Charity Premiere-16th December 1959 Charlton Heston “Ben Hur” which ran for 76 weeks until 28th May 1961. This was the last film to be screened in the original auditorium. For this final presentation a new projection box was built in the centre of the stalls, beneath the front of the balcony (loosing half the stalls seating due to the projection box and bad sightlines of seating on the extreme edges). The projection had a straight throw of 78 feet to a new 52 feet masked wide screen which had been erected just in front of the proscenium arch. The seating capacity was reduced to 1,723.

With its attendance already declining before the “Ben Hur” run, and mounting criticism of the theatre’s technical quality, it had been decided to ’re-do' the theatre. It was closed and totally gutted internally. The building had been purchased by Mecca Ltd.

It re-opened on 19th June 1962 with Doris Day in “Jumbo”. The cinema had a completely new look inside the shell of the old theatre. Designed by noted cinema architect George Coles, his last major project, it was in a ‘modern’ style for the 1960’s. Seating was provided for 1,330 on a single floor which was formerly the circle, now extended forward. There were 688 in the front seating section and 642 in the former stepped section of the circle. The former stalls area became a Mecca Dance Hall (which in 2006, became a casino). The original facade was entirely covered by a new advertising hoarding. On 25th November 1965 the World Premiere of “Lasy L” was held at the Empire Theatre. On 26th April 1966 a Royal European Gala Charity Premiere of “Doctor Zhivago” was held at the Empire Theatre.

Later incorporating two other spaces, the adjacent Ritz Cinema and another small space off the foyer which opened as the 80 seat, Screen 3, on 29th November 1985 with Harrison Ford in “Witness”, the Empire Cinema was now a triplex. Many more premieres were held in the Empire Cinema’s magnificent main auditorium (Screen 1), which in 1989 was refurbished and was THX certified.

Seating 1,330 in the main Screen 1 (with a huge 60 feet wide by 25 feet high screen) and 77 in Screen 3. (Screen 2 in the former adjacent Ritz Cinema is listed seperately as ‘Cineworld at the Empire Theatre – Screen 2’ on this site, and has a current seating capacity of 349). The facade has since been restored. After many years being operated by UCI it was taken over by the Irish based Empire Cinemas Ltd. as part of a new circuit they are now operating in the UK. On 20th June 2008, two new screens 4 & 5 opened in spaces that had originaly been a toilet area and green room. In August 2009, a further four screens were created in the building, giving a total of eight screens, plus one screen in the former adjacent Ritz Cinema which was known as ‘Screen 2’.

The final world premiere held in Screen 1 was the One Direction film “One Direction:This Is Us” on 21st August 2013. George Coles designed Screen 1 was closed for redevelopment on 26th August 2013 with the horror film “Big Bad Wolves” screening as part of the annual weekend ‘Frightfest’.

Screen 1 was then sub-divided to provide a 398-seat ‘Impact’ screen with Atmos sound, which has a stadium seated main floor and also seating provided in a balcony (in the former Empire Theatre’s stage house). It opened on 16th May 2014. It is located in the screen end of the former Empire 1, with its huge ‘Impact’ screen now back to back with the new IMAX screen next door.

The 751-seat IMAX screen which opened on 30th May 2014 is located in the former rear seating area of Screen 1, and has retained some of the cinema’s 1962 George Coles designed decoration, with illuminated troughs across the ceiling and down the side-walls which have ever-changing colours. The conversion was carried out to the plans of architectural firm UNICK Architects.

The Empire was one of five Empire cinemas purchased by Cineworld in July 2016, the others were Basildon, Hemel Hempstead, Poole and Bromley. The deal also included that Empire Theatres would take over the Cineworld Haymarket. The Cineworld Cinema Leicester Square was closed on 7th January 2018 for refurbishment and re-opened 9th February 2018.

Contributed by Ross Melnick, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 675 comments)

LARGE_screen_format on August 6, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Not sure about this idea of having the picture extend at 90 degrees onto the two side walls? Surely a more immersive experience would be achieved by having a wider, possibly curved, floor to ceiling screen. Oh, wait…that sounds like IMAX, lol! :o)

Wonder if any existing 4DX auditoria get converted into ScreenX or whether they will all be new build or conversions of non-4DX screens only?

LARGE_screen_format on August 6, 2018 at 7:33 pm

B&B Theatres newly built flagship Liberty 12 in Liberty, MO, USA has the world’s largest ScreenX environment measuring more than four stories tall and seven stories wide with a seating capacity of 244.

The ScreenX is a cinematic platform using 10 projectors to display a movie on the walls in front and on the sides of the viewer, creating a 270-degree screen immersing the viewer in an expanse experience. About 40% of the movie utilises the three screen, most of it is displayed on the front wall in the traditional way.

Upcoming ScreenX releases include The Nun, Aquaman and Shazam!, with more to be announced this year. These join recent releases Black Panther, Rampage, plus Ant-Man and the Wasp. In 2017 three movies were released in ScreenX – Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

CF100 on August 7, 2018 at 5:52 am


Not sure about this idea of having the picture extend at 90 degrees onto the two side walls?

Neither am I!

Surely a more immersive experience would be achieved by having a wider, possibly curved, floor to ceiling screen.

It would extend further into the audience’s horizontal peripheral vision than IMAX — 270°, as you quote, is their advertised claim, vs. maximum 120° for an IMAX conforming to criteria — and those areas are used by the human brain for motion awareness…

I can’t see it working well in terms of producing a geometrically undistorted picture, and also consistent illumination, including across seating positions?

Plus keeping all the projectors properly aligned and calibrated?

(Of course, the old OMNIMAX system could achieve “wider than IMAX” images.)

Wonder if any existing 4DX auditoria get converted into ScreenX or whether they will all be new build or conversions of non-4DX screens only?

Adding ScreenX to existing 4DX auditoria seems likely? (Given the above) the system would seem to work well in tandem with the motion seating.

About 40% of the movie utilises the three screen, most of it is displayed on the front wall in the traditional way.

Filmmaker Magazine – October 2013 – “Introducing Screen X, Cinema in 270 Degrees” – Interview with Paul Kim, “Lead Producer of ScreenX”.

“[Shooting Screen X involves a] three cameras [setup], a center camera and two peripheral cameras. The cameras – we used three RED Epics [for the South Korean film “The X”] – are hooked up onto a rig that allows you to shoot simultaneously in three directions at the same time.”

Apparently, using white screens doesn’t work, and at the time of the interview, they were using a “very cool dark grey”:

“The reason white screens don’t work is that you are now projecting onto the walls itself, that is still a light source and it reflects off the main screen and washes off on the main screen. This is a color we came upon because it absorbs light and it doesn’t reflect onto the main screen and at the same time it retrains most of the contrast and the colors. We are still experimenting with different colors.”

Kim mentions that the CJ Group’s cinema subsidary CGV are using Tectum fabric covered walls. I’m not clear from the article if the fabric supplied with this system is used as the sidewall screen material.

Also: “We have developed a term called FSR, which is Front Side Ratio, so the front of the screen to how long the side of the theater is. Ideally it’s about 1.5 to 1.8. We don’t like it to be any longer than that and we don’t like it to be any shorter.” He goes on to say that “180 to 230 seats is ideal.”

Sounds like an interesting system but whilst 4DX “works” as a optional “gimmick” that’s added late in post, I’d question the long term viability of ScreenX as a specialist format given that it would seem to require considerable additional production costs and upfront commitment?

Adding ScreenX to the LSQ 4DX would seem to be a non-starter—unless the columns are allowed to “interrupt” the sidewall images? With the 4DX conversion already pushing the limit of the cinema’s demised area in the basement of 1-4 Leicester Square, not sure there’s room for all the extra projectors, either.

Meanwhile, vendors continue to push LED screens to replace projection in cinemas.

You might be interested in an article published by Hollywood Reporter, which also notes the apparent exasperation of Spielberg of Nolan and Spielberg at the prospect of direct view display systems in theatres.

According to this article, the first Samsung Onyx LED display system in the US was installed at Pacific Theatres Winnetka in Chatsworth, CA—in the suburbanised San Fernando Valley area ~15 miles NW of Hollywood—with “Ready Player One” being the first programmed feature.

CF100 on October 10, 2018 at 1:44 am

Looking at Cineworld’s booking pages, it seems that “First Man” isn’t programmed for the IMAX auditorium, only 4DX and Superscreen. In fact, nothing is presently scheduled for the IMAX according to Cineworld’s site; the IMAX is being used for the BFI Film Festival, though hardly continuously, unless there are private screenings also held there?

With 15/70 prints not being made, the only option in London for “full scale” IMAX will be Xenon-lamp projection at the BFI, and no option at all to see it “full height” 1.4:1.

CF100 on October 28, 2018 at 12:52 am

“Extinguishing Spotlights: the Uncertain Future of Cinematic Heritage in London’s Leicester Square”.

An academic article authored by Alexa Raisbeck, this contains a potted history of cinemas in LSQ and some photos of auditoria and exterior, paying some particular attention to the Empire Leicester Square.

Whilst I share the author’s concerns over the potential impact of redevelopment on the place of Leicester Square in the cinematic world, the topic seems rather odd when major investment has been made over the past few years into the flagship sites.

It should be noted that the article contains a number of errors, many of which could have been rectified simply by reading through the relevant material and comments posted on Cinema Treasures.

CF100 on October 28, 2018 at 1:43 am

The high-level banner on the LSQ facade currently advertises “Halloween,” with “AT CINEWORLD LEICESTER SQUARE NOW” in red letters at the bottom.

Perhaps Cineworld have finally figured out a way to put their brand name on the front of the building so that it can actually be seen from the other side of the square!

Photo uploaded.

LARGE_screen_format on November 4, 2018 at 10:06 pm

Cineworld, Watford, which opens on 14th December 2018, with become the third cinema in the UK to have IMAX with Laser. Also, ScreenX.

CF100 on November 5, 2018 at 12:40 am

LARGE_screen_format: Good news! I suspect it will be the “downsized” version for “multiplex”-sized IMAX venues rather than the original system intended to replace 15/70 projectors in classic “Grand Theatre” venues (and similarly scaled new builds or conversions.)

As a new build, it might just be one of the best IMAX/PLF screens in the country—technically speaking, of course.

HowardBHaas on December 17, 2018 at 12:26 pm

is this photo in this article the former Ritz specified in the Intro? now a 4Dx? are there columns further back on the auditorium’s side walls?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 17, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Yes Howard, The photograph in the article is the (now much altered) former Ritz Cinema. Supporting columns are still there all the way along the side walls, always have been there. The former Ritz Cinema has its own page on Cinema Treasures as the Cineworld Cinema – Leicester Square 4DX

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