Cineworld Cinema - Leicester Square

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Empire Cinema

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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 594 comments)

CF100 on April 12, 2018 at 1:18 pm

Ceiling cove lighting looks a bit inconsistent and still annoyed by the loss of the marble-clad right wall… but… (in a positive way…)

Bl!?dy h#ll!

Ceiling above the curved wall section looks reflective?

(Odd coincidence that the title of films screened seem to reflect the occurrence of the most major works at the Cineworld/Empire LSQ: “Big Bad Wolves,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” and now “Rampage”—although I suppose that one should have coincided with the foyer strip-out!)

Zappomatic on April 12, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Yes all of the black ceiling in the foyer is a reflective lacquer finish stretch ceiling.

Zappomatic on April 12, 2018 at 1:36 pm

A few more photos found on Twitter:

CF100 on April 12, 2018 at 1:39 pm

Interesting, doesn’t seem to be something that appears among Eomac’s sample photos, but a quick Google search leads to a number of suppliers, at least one of which boasts their product yields a “seamless” finish. Wonder if they will replace the IMAX’s ceiling (though persumably not with reflective material!) as this all seems “no expense spared”…

I guess the right wall is simply painted with Perspex/acrylic strips attached?

CF100 on April 12, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Thanks for the Twitter link.

Not impressed by the concealed lighting installation in general, and I see the large “gold” panels are still sagging.

As a whole it looks impressive, though—definitely better than I’d expected!

Zappomatic on April 12, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Strangely the IMAX appears to have retained its padded doors albeit with simplified door handles, which looks a bit out of place.

On my visit the other day the wall had lines drawn on it to mark where the strips would be attached.

Zappomatic on April 16, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Just visiting for the first time since the completion of the foyer refurb and it looks great! They’ve taken Empire’s padded door theme and run with it, with all doors covered in black suede padding and the entire back wall under the sloped ceiling! There’s lots of sofa seating, so it does still feel like a place to linger.

Refurb stops abruptly at the screen 5 and 6 landing although new signage is in place.

I’ll upload some video later tonight, and a couple of photos in just a moment.

Zappomatic on April 16, 2018 at 3:56 pm

As promised, here’s a short video of the new foyer:

Apologies for the shaky camera work!

CF100 on April 19, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Thanks Zappomatic, I enjoyed your video.

Good grief, the vestibule up from LSQ reminds me of the Trocadero back in the “Segaworld” days, with its curved video wall (and seemingly the Spice Girls' “Generation Next” Pepsi advert blasted out every 5 minutes over the Turbosound speakers!) I suspect it won’t be to the taste of some around here, but I like being bombarded by video and sound. ;–)

Not sure the main foyer section under the IMAX stadia is as warm and welcoming as before, but I’ll have to see in person. Those sofas can’t be any worse than the previous!

Looks like the left entrance doors/vormitory to the IMAX aren’t intended to be used given that there appears to be no signage?

Now back to having a lie down after the dreadful hot weather… :–(

CF100 on April 22, 2018 at 5:41 am

I’ve posted several links to articles with photos of the 4DX and refurbished foyer on the Cineworld Cinema – Leicester Square 4DX page.

From one of these articles:

“Cineworld’s vice president of operations UK and Ireland Shaun Jones said the Empire in Leicester Square had long been ‘the home of film for the UK.’

“‘All the Hollywood greats were here, when you think of cinema and the West End, the Empire is the cinema you think of,’ he said.

“‘It’s not really had a transformation for many years; we want to bring it up to a modern and technical standard [sic], but equally we want to carry on with the tradition of the Empire by hosting key film events.

“‘It’s really important for us to keep that heritage going.’”

No sign of a new license application with update plans yet, just a new “Change of DPS” (Designated Premises Supervisor) application with no documents.

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