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 641 comments)

LARGE_screen_format on July 1, 2018 at 4:49 am


I’ve posted a reply on the Odeon, Greenwich page.

I did enjoy Rampage for what it was, a movie based on a video game, it had some good action and overall was entertaining.

LARGE_screen_format on July 3, 2018 at 7:49 am

When booking tickets online for IMAX at Cineworld, Leicester Square the width of the screen on the seating layout page surely can’t be to scale? It isn’t even as wide as the centre section of seats alone meaning anyone sat on the two side sections would be watching from a 45-degree angle.

CF100 on July 3, 2018 at 10:47 am

LARGE_screen_format: Licensing plans show everything (within reason) “to scale”—try the “MEZZANINE LEVEL” PDF linked to from the “DOCUMENTS” tab on the linked page.

Based on this, 8 side seats (16 total) of row M (2nd to last row) are beyond the screen edges.

LARGE_screen_format on July 3, 2018 at 10:54 am

As I suspected, the Cineworld seating layout page is way off scale. Probably just a generic image used for the screen of any and all auditoria across the whole of their website?

These licensing plans that you post links for sure offer a level of detail one may otherwise never be privy to. Had not previously ever thought to search and look through any.

CF100 on July 3, 2018 at 12:27 pm

LARGE_screen_format: Looking at the IMAX and Superscreen booking pages for LSQ, as well as one of the “studio”-sized auditorium, Cineworld’s booking system seems have two different layouts for the screen, one with “SCREEN” in a grey rectangle extending the full width, used for the “studio”-sized auditorium, and the other used for the IMAX/Superscreen, which show a similar rectangle, only the left/right sides are angled. This latter rectangle seems to have a maximum width of ~20 seats or so, and hence is the wrong relative width for the Superscreen as well as the IMAX. Clearly it’s a “generic” layout also in the sense that the seating distance from the screen isn’t represented to any kind of relative scale, either.

Licensing plans are definitely a fantastic resource, but I don’t think I’d thought to search for them either until I read a post on Cinema Treasures by Zappomatic. With inconsistent addresses, slow page load times, and so on— generally very clunky systems used—it’s not always easy to find what you’re looking for, though!

LARGE_screen_format on July 3, 2018 at 1:02 pm

We’re lucky to have you posting direct links to licensing plans of interest @CF100 ;o)

Zappomatic on July 4, 2018 at 6:53 am

Added photos of refurbished new screen 2

CF100 on July 4, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Zappomatic: Thanks for the photos, looks good!

(Hmm, except for the slightly tacky red backlit Cineworld “stars” on the sidewalls.)

360° photos of the foyer (one taken from upper vestibule, the other from the far end), Screen 1 and Screen 2 can be seen on Squaremeal’s website, under the “Virtual Tour” section towards the bottom of the page (“Room List” at the top right of the photo view area is used to select the desired shot.)

In the photo of Screen 1, the yellow upholstered door with “porthole” is still in place!

“Cineworld London Venues” — photos of the LSQ IMAX, O2 Superscreen, Cineworld Wembley and Wandsworth.)

There are photos of the 4DX auditorium in the “carousel” at the top of the page, and if it is available to book, it’s perhaps amusing to imagine a corporate event being ruined by rogue use of the 4DX environmental effects. ;–)

Photos of the former Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square Screens 4/5 are available in Eomac’s literature in the PDF linked to from the linked page.

The new stadia do seem to have quite an improved rake. I can’t see more than 3 sidewall speakers in the “new” Screen 2, whereas the former Screen 4 had 4—although the front one may be washed out.

Zappomatic: How does the new Lino Sonego seating compare to the previous? (AFAIK from Seating Concepts.) Is the picture/sound quality up to standard?

Zappomatic on July 4, 2018 at 1:56 pm

New seating is very comfortable and thickly padded although I found the back row of screen 2 to have been installed at perhaps a little too upright an angle with the headrest preventing me from sitting the way I wanted to – I didn’t notice this issue in screen 1. Surprisingly even the outer backs of the seats are padded and upholstered. The old seating was very comfortable so long as nobody was sitting in front of you, in which case the seat in front would recline back into your knees (it seemed to me a way of saving space, dressed up as a luxury). On balance I think I prefer the new seats.

Very bright, crisp picture with good black levels and contrast, and punchy sound however there was a noticeable keystone effect when projecting a flat picture. Sadly no moveable masking. In person I too was struck by the apparently low number of sidewall speakers however this might have been to do with the lighting which doesn’t tend to spread onto the walls.

These refurbished screens are less characterful than previously but no longer suffer from some of the frankly unacceptable viewing angles that they used to offer.

CF100 on July 6, 2018 at 8:11 pm

Zappomatic: Thanks for your detailed response. :–)

The “picture frame” design that Empire Cinemas used in the former Screens 4-9 seemed to be a slightly odd throwback to the 1928 iteration of the Empire, particularly since very few patrons would “get” the reference! With the concealed edge lighting it did actually look quite good in person, though.

As you say the Cineworld refurbished auditoria are stripped down in terms of decorative features, but at least they don’t look tacky; I think Cineworld have shown some good judgement and restraint with their alterations to their LSQ cinema.

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