The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in Los Angeles on Thursday, September 30, nearly a hundred years in the making. At a board meeting way back in 1929, the founders of the Academy are on record voicing the need for a movie museum in Los Angeles.
That’s a lot of time to accumulate collector’s items, curate exhibits and build an unforgettable experience for movie lovers. And that’s exactly what’s been done.
“The Academy has 13 million items in our collection: scripts, photographs, costumes, props, storyboards and personal collections,” says museum director and president Bill Kramer on the process of populating the film mecca. “But we’re also securing loans from collectors,” he adds, which so far have included items from the likes of Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, Debbie Reynolds and more.
Such an abundance of quality offerings makes it nearly impossible to compile a brief cheat sheet. But we did our best. Here are 12 things worth geeking out about at the Academy Museum.
1. Miyazaki Moments
It’s impressive enough that this inaugural exhibition features over 300 storyboards, concept images and backgrounds from the legendary Japanese animator—and that many of those pieces are on display outside of Studio Ghibli’s Tokyo offices for the first time. But it’s the experiential nature of Hayao Miyazaki that makes it a can’t-miss. After entering through a transportive green tunnel, visitors can wander around a hypnotic, glowing, My Neighbor Totoro-style Mother Tree or, for a contemplative Kiki’s Delivery Service moment, recline on a patch of grass to admire blue skies and cotton candy clouds above.
2. 'Midsommar's May Queen Gown
The Miyazaki exhibition alone warrants a trip to the Academy Museum, but, astonishingly, it’s just one of five. Stories of Cinema is a broad, varied and ever-changing exhibition exploring the stories of people who make movies—and how they do it. Among the most eye-catching and recognizable of the creations on display here are the iconic movie costumes. We can’t look away from the fiery, winged devil suit from Rocketman or Florence Pugh’s May Queen gown from Midsommar (it’s made from 10,000 silk flowers).
3. Spike Lee Threads
Less flamboyant but equally iconic is garb from Oscar-winner Spike Lee’s career, on and off the screen. You can have a close look at shirts worn on the sizzling summer days of Do the Right Thing—Lee’s pizza delivery shirt as well as the #42 Dodgers jersey—along with the unforgettable purple suit Lee wore when he won his Adapted Screenplay Oscar for BlacKkKlansman in 2019.
4. All Things 'Wizard of Oz'
Costumes and beyond, the Academy Museum is the indisputable spot for The Wizard of Oz fans. Dorothy’s iconic gingham dress is there, yes, along with her ruby slippers (which are one of only four pairs known to have survived from the 1939 film set), the Wicked Witch’s pointed hat and the Cowardly Lion’s mane. Oscar-nominated costume designers Arianne Phillips, Sharen Davis and (three-time winner) Sandy Powell have an apparel collection inspired by The Wizard of Oz in the Academy Museum Store, too. And, if you’re an L.A. local who was lucky enough to grab tickets, the museum’s opening-day event is a screening of the film classic accompanied by a live orchestra.
5. Backdrop: An Invisible Art
Before CGI and green screen, backdrops were the trick to making movie magic on set. One from a Hitchcock classic hangs at the museum: A canvas measuring 25 feet wide and 40 feet tall depicts Mount Rushmore, the site of North by Northwest’s thrilling climax. Other painted backdrops are on display in the gallery, but this is the only one that takes up two stories.
6. Hearing Hildur
We all remember Hildur Guðnadóttir’s chilling and Oscar-winning original score from Joker. Now we can have an eerie dance moment of our own, just like Joaquin Phoenix did in a train station bathroom—except ours will be in Dolby Atmos. In the Stories of Cinema exhibition, orchestral music from the Icelandic composer floods an immersive and moody dark room.
7. Pixar & Pre-Cinema
It’s aliiiive! Constructed with over 200 Toy Story models, the zoetrope brings our favorite figurines to life when you give it a spin: Woody gallops on his horse, Buzz rolls around on a Pixar ball, Jesse dances in a lasso, and three-eyed aliens bop around the scene.
But the zoetrope is just one type of pre-cinematic technology used to simulate motion and tell stories. The museum is full of others like it thanks to the Richard Balzer collection, which brings together magic lanterns, shadow puppet theaters, early film projectors and more, some of which are from as far back as the 17th century.
8. 'Jurassic Park's Dinosaur Input Device
Speaking of high tech, the Academy Museum has a T-Rex Dinosaur Input Device (DID), too. Invented and implemented during the production of Jurassic Park, the model is full of sensors that map to the dinosaur’s skeleton. An evolution of traditional stop-motion production techniques, the DID translated various T-Rex poses into data for graphics software in order to get the action Steven Spielberg was looking for.
9. The Oscars Experience
If you’re hoping to one day win an Oscar, this is your chance to warm up. The Oscars Experience is a private, two-minute, immersive simulation of what it feels like to be up on the Dolby Theatre stage, all eyes on you, with an 8½-pound statuette in hand. Give your winner’s speech a trial run beforehand, because multicam footage from your time in the room will be stitched together as a digital souvenir. Tuxedo or ball gowns are optional—but we think it’d be a nice touch.
10. Rooftop Views
As you can see, there is oh-so-much going on inside the museum. But since a lot of it celebrates art and achievements made in Tinseltown, why not take a break from gallery lighting and have a look at the city itself? On top of the “floating” concrete sphere designed by architect Renzo Piano, the Dolby Family Terrace offers stunning views of Los Angeles—including movie landmarks like the Hollywood sign, if you look closely.
11. The David Geffen Theater—And The Film Calendar Lineup
Directly beneath that heavenly terrace is the David Geffen Theater, home to a breathtaking movie screen and 1,000 vibrant red seats. While we really would be content sitting in admiration of the interior design, there’s a lot happening on-screen, too. Catch Bride of Frankenstein, Psycho and Get Out for “OscarⓇ Frights!” or Atlantics, Tron and Eyes Wide Shut for “Sound Off: A Celebration of Women Composers.” After a year or two of not going to the movies as often as we would have liked to, it makes for a perfect homecoming.
12. Just About Everything In The Gift Shop
Academy members have taken the lead in designing what’s arguably the most loaded merch lineup we’ve ever seen. How will we be able to resist the likes of a jewelry line from Black Panther designers Ruth E. Carter and Douriean Fletcher? New items from Spike Lee that sync with his gallery upstairs? LEGO Oscars like the ones handed out at the 87th Academy Awards? A ruby slipper-inspired red purse co-designed by Moschino? Candles that smell like movie genres? Someone please confiscate our wallet.
Advance reservations can be made online or through the museum’s mobile app. The Academy Museum is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.