Cineworld Cinema - Leicester Square

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Empire Cinema

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 620 comments)

CF100 on June 4, 2018 at 6:43 pm

joeswin: The signage illumination and the LED colour dot matrix display certainly need attention as they’re not working properly anymore!

(Albeit IMO the current canopy always looked dreadful…!)

No planning application for a replacement (or alterations to the existing) are listed at the moment.

The 2006 planning application for the existing canopy and signage.

As can be seen from this application, it was made on behalf of London Clubs Management. The cinema is sublet from the Casino who hold the head lease (building owned by London and Regional Properties)—no idea what the arrangements are but it might reasonably be surmised that Cineworld can’t redo the canopy/signage unilaterally.

There is a building control application dated March 2017 for a full refubishment of the Casino. That scheme doesn’t seem to have been taken forward but it might be the case that an overhaul is in the pipeline.

From my previous post linking to a conceptual proposal for complete redevelopment of the Empire site by London and Regional Properties, the casino is branded as “Caesars Palace” in the drawings of the facade and as Caesars Entertainment now operate the casino it might be the case that any replacement would take that name along with Cineworld branding.

IOW, I’d guess a refresh is due but not just yet…

CF100 on June 4, 2018 at 7:14 pm

LARGE_screen_format: The cinema was closed in January of this year to strip out the foyer and to get it to a state which allowed for ongoing building works whilst keeping the cinema open to the public.

The former Screen 2 had been stripped by the end of August 2017 according to the member of staff I spoke to at that time.

With the public areas of the main foyer and vestibule from Leicester Square and the 4DX complete Cineworld publicised the changes they’d made in April 2018—e.g.YouTube Video of Gala Opening.

AFAIK the former Screens 4/5 (now 1 and 2) are still closed at the moment, see Zappomatic’s photo into the former Screen 4 in a stripped state.

No idea what further phases Cineworld have planned but the information I had last month from talking to a member of staff was that Cineworld weren’t planning on doing anything to the IMAX and Superscreen at the moment as the conversion of the old Screen 1 was completed at a time that is still fairly recent.

Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 9:17 pm

I realise this is in the realms of extreme minutiae, but given all internal signage installed by Empire Cinemas has been replaced (even in non-refurbished areas such as access to screens 6-9) regardless of whether it was branded, I was rather surprised to notice that the sign to the toilets as you exit the Superscreen appears to have been missed!

Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 10:04 pm

Screen 1 and 2 now bookable.

Screen 1 (formerly 5) has 44 seats across 4 rows Screen 2 has (formerly 4) has 78 seats across 5 rows

Going by the numbers on Empire Cinemas' orphaned webpages this is a reduction of 4 and 16 seats respectively. It looks as though screen 1’s layout has changed. Previously it had a single centre aisle but now has aisles on either end of the rows. Strangely the middle two seats of the back row are missing – shame to lose these as they had limitless legroom, but a smart move I think as viewing from the ends of the rows (particularly house right due to the screen not being centred) wasn’t great.

Nothing programmed for screens 5-7 tomorrow onwards.

CF100 on June 4, 2018 at 10:35 pm

Zappomatic: Extreme minutiae is exactly what I like. ;–)

Thanks for the update on the ongoing refurb.

Zappomatic on June 5, 2018 at 12:06 pm

Screen 1 is now looking very smart and the new layout works well. Black carpet as seen elsewhere in this cinema and brass handrails but the rest of it follows Cineworld’s current fit-out with Black wall coverings and a red strip of LEDs around the wall above handrail height, and red Lino Sonego seating. The auditorium has been re-stepped more steeply so that heads don’t get in the way however this does mean that the two middle seats in the back row are missing because of the projector overhead. Seats don’t recline but are very comfortable and the legroom is vastly improved. Rows have a hard floor rather than carpet which will be easier to clean.

Screen does not appear to have adjustable masking and no longer has the red LED surround. Surround speakers are hidden in the walls.

Lighting levels in the screen are suitable low, with the honeycomb filters as seen in the upper screens at the O2. Photos to be uploaded shortly!

Zappomatic on June 5, 2018 at 12:24 pm

Correction: side surrounds are not embedded in the walls but it does highlight that lighting levels during trailers are low enough that they can’t be seen.

Oddly there are no letters to indicate the rows.

CF100 on June 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Zappomatic: The side surrounds are visible in your photos, easier to see with some basic adjustments, e.g. increasing the brightness or gamma curve.

A double mains socket can also be seen on the right sidewall, perfect for charging your phone during the feature! (Just kidding.)

Zappomatic on June 5, 2018 at 4:14 pm

I did clock that socket but fortunately my phone had enough juice!

The seats in the back row closest to the projector have their own special amenity in that the rails next to them make a great place to hang coats and the floor space behind them is perfect for storing shopping bags. :)

Zappomatic on June 17, 2018 at 5:22 pm

Screen 6 reopens on Thursday, with seating capacity reduced from 48 to 38, across three rows (previously four).

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