Odeon London Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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Odeon Theatres UK (Official)

Additional Info

Operated by: Odeon Theatres Ltd.

Previously operated by: Rank Organisation

Architects: Andrew Mather, Harry W. Weedon

Firms: Harry W. Weedon Partnership

Functions: Movies (First Run)

Styles: Art Deco

Previous Names: Odeon Leicester Square

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 440871.224.4007

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News About This Theater

Odeon Leicester Square

The Odeon Leicester Square was the ‘flagship’ cinema of Oscar Deutsch’s chain of Odeon Theatres Ltd. It was built on the site of the Alhambra Theatre (1883-1936) (which has its own page on Cinema Treasures). Designed by architects Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather, the Odeon opened for business on 2nd November 1937 with “The Prisoner of Zenda” starring Ronald Colman. The seating capacity at opening was for 2,116 (1,140 in the stalls and 976 in the balcony) and the seats were covered in mock leopard-skin!

It dominates Leicester Square with its 120 feet tall tower, and the entire façade and tower covered in black granite slabs.

Over the years there have been many alterations to the interior of the cinema, including an ill-fated £200,000 ‘zing’ treatment in 1967 which removed practically the entire original decorations. Only the elaborately painted safety curtain remains original today (and that is rarely seen or used). The last film to play in the original auditorium was Audrey Hepburn in “Two for the Road” on 20th September 1967. It re-opened with a gala premiere of “Smashing Time” with Rita Tushingham & Lynn Redgrave on 27th December 1967 with a stage show featuring Cliff Richard & the Shadows.

The projection equipment includes a Cinemecannica Victoria 8 (two projectors plus a standby machine, with large capacity spools, and in addition a platter for running 70mm as and when necessary). It is also equipped to play digital presentations, VHS, DVD and 16mm.

All digital sound formats are supported, including 8 channel SDDS. Full stage facilities are available, as the screen and stage speakers are designed to retract. There is the aforementioned safety curtain, a set of house curtains and a set of screen curtains. The stage has had occasional use over the years, one occasion being during World War II when Bob Hope, Adolphe Menjou and the Glenn Miller Orchestra took to the stage, and entertained an audience which included Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower.

The Odeon also contains its original Compton 5Manual/17Rank organ, with illuminated console on a lift, Melotone, and a Grand Piano which was opened by organist James Bell. It is still played on special events, accompanying silent films and occasionally during premiere presentations.

On 20th April 1990, five additional screens were added to the Odeon, built at an alleyway running between Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road and named the Odeon Mezzanine and have their own separate page on Cinema Treasures (now known as Odeon Studios Leicester Square).

In April 1998, the building was renovated and copies of the ‘Flying Ladies’ sculptures were re-instated on the side-walls and some of the concealed lighting in troughs in the ceiling were re-lit.

Always a first run cinema, initially the films played were mainly United Artist productions. Later it premiered many films from the Rank Organisation, who took over Odeon Theatres in 1941 on the death of Oscar Deutsch. From 1946 and for many years, it alternated each year with the Empire Theatre across Leicester Square to host the Royal Film Performance. The Empire Theatre was dropped from this honour after it was modernised in 1961. The Royal Film Performance is an Annual event, unique to the United Kingdom. The film industry invites the reigning monarch or a leading member/members of Royalty to attend a performance of an unseen film, the attending audience pay big money to participate in the event, the money made goes to charity. Many film stars and personalities also attend this glittering event.

Some early Royal Film Performances at the Odeon Leicester Square have been: 1947 Cary Grant in “The Bishops Wife”, 1951 Dinah Sheridan in “Where No Vultures Fly”, 1953 Richard Todd in “Rob Roy The Highland Rogue”, 1955 Cary Grant in “To Catch A Thief”, 1957 Gene Kelly in “Les Girls”, 1966 Virginia McKenna in “Born Free”, 1962 Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” in Panavision 70, 1967 Elizabeth Taylor in “The Taming of the Shrew”, 1968 Leonard Whiting in “Romeo and Juliet”, 1969 Maggie Smith in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, 1970 Richard Burton in “Anne of the Thousand Days”, 1971 Ali MacGraw in “Love Story”, 1972 Vanessa Redgrave in “Mary, Queen of Scots” in 70mm, 1973 Peter Finch in “Lost Horizon” in 70mm, 1974 Michael York in “The Three Musketeers”, 1975 Barbra Streisand “Funny Lady” in 70mm, 1976 Richard Chamberlain in “The Slipper and the Rose”, 1977 Gene Wilder in “Silver Streak”, 1978 Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 70mm, 1979 Michael Caine in “California Suite”, 1980 Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer vs Kramer”, 1981 Ben Cross in “Chariots of Fire”, 1982 Peter Usinov in “Evil Under the Sun”, 1983 Jon Voight in “Table For Five”, 1984 Albert Finney in “The Dresser”, 1985 Judy Davis in “A Passage To India”, 1986 Mikhail Baryshnikov in “White Nights” and in 1987 Anne Bancroft in “84 Charing Cross Road”.

Other important events at the Odeon Leicester Square have been:
Gala European Premiere 27/8/53 “Melba”
European Premiere 19/11/53 “The Robe”
World Premiere 01/03/56 “A Town Like Alice”
Royal World Premiere 22/03/56 “Alexander The Great”
World Premier 24/05/56 “Storm Centre”
Charity World Premiere 05/07/56 “Reach For The Sky”
European Premiere 06/09/56 “Oklahoma”
World Premiere 13/03/57 “Fortune is a Woman”
Royal World Premiere 29/05/58 “The Key”
Gala World Premiere 30/12/59 “Our Man In Havana”
Royal World Premiere 11/02/60 “Sink the Bismark”
Royal World Premiere 05/01/61 “The Singer Not the Song”
Gala World Premiere 05/04/61 “The Greengage Summer”
Royal World Premiere 27/04/61 “The Guns of Naverone”
Royal World Premiere 04/01/62 “The Valiant”
Gala World Premiere 22/02/62 “HMS Defiant”
Royal World Premiere 10/12/62 “Lawrence of Arabia” in Super Panavision 70
Royal Film Performance 18/03/63 “Sammy Going South” Gala World Premiere 20/06/63 “The Great Escape”
World Premiere 10/10/63 “From Russia with Love”
Gala World Premiere 17/09/64 “Goldfinger”
Royal World Premiere 23/11/65 “The Heroes of Telemark”
World Premiere 5/05/66 “Modesty Blaise”
Gala British Premiere 30/06/66 “The Blue Max”
European Premiere 11/08/66 “Torn Curtain”
Gala World Premiere 10/11/66 “The Quiller Memorandum”
Gala World Premiere 27/01/67 “The Night of the Generals”
Royal World Premiere 12/06/67 “You Only Live Twice”
Gala Premiere 27/12/67 “Smashing Time”
Royal World Premiere 10/04/68 “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
Royal World Premiere 26/09/68 “Oliver”
Royal World Premiere 16/12/68 “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Royal World Premiere 18/12/69 “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
Royal World Premiere 16/07/70 “Cromwell” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 26/10/70 “Waterloo” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 13/01/71 “Murphy’s War”
World Premiere 07/10/71 “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”
Royal World Premiere 29/11/71 “Nicholas and Alexandra”
Gala World Premiere 20/07/72 “Young Winston”
Royal World Premiere 05/07/73 “Live and Let Die”
Royal World Premiere 08/08/74 “Caravan to Vaccares”
Gala World Premiere 05/09/74 “Gold”
Royal World Premiere 01/05/75 “Paper Tiger”
Royal European Premiere 18/12/75 “The Man Who Would Be King”
Gala World Premiere 13/04/76 “Shout at the Devil”
Royal World Premiere 16/12/76 “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”
Royal World Premiere 13/07/78 “Revenge of the Pink Panther”
Royal World Premiere 26/06/79 “Moonraker”
Royal World Premiere 18/12/79 “The Black Hole” in 70mm
Royal European Premiere 20/05/80 “The Empire Srikes Back” in 70mm
Gala World Premiere 17/12/80 “The Dogs of War”
Gala European Premiere 09/04/81 “Popeye”
Royal European Premiere 07/07/82 “Annie” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 26/08/82 “Who Dares Wins”
Royal European Premiere 02/12/82 “Ghandi” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 06/06/83 “Octopussy”
Royal World Premiere 01/03/84 “Champions”
World Premier 28/03/85 “Not Quite Jerusalem”
World Premiere 19/03/87 “The Fourth Protocol”
Royal World Premiere 29/06/87 “The Living Daylights”
Gala World Premiere 03/09/87 “Hope and Glory”

There are many, many, more and of course in more recent years the Odeon Leicester Square has become ‘the’ place for premieres, which seem to happen weekly!

The final regular film show was on 8th January, 2018 with “Star Wars:The Last Jedi”. On 9th January 2018 the European Premiere of “The Post” was attended by Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg. After which the Odeon was closed to be renovated & remodelled.

The rear stalls seating area has been taken over by new toilets, a switch room and larger concession area. The former front stalls is now 259 recliner seats on nine rows. The front of the circle (Royal Circle) now has three rows of 90 recliner seats. The rear circle has 446 regular seats on fourteen rows. Total seating capacity has been reduced to 794 + 6 disabled spaces (reduced from 1,683 seats of recent years). The Odeon London Leicester Square was re-opened on 21st December 2018 as a Dolby Cinema with Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns”. The pre-film organ interlude had the refurbished Compton organ played by organist Donald MacKenzie. The World Premiere of “Alita-Battle Angel” starring Rosa Salazar & Christolph Waltz was held here on 31st January 2019.

The adjacent Odeon Mezzanine screens have been renamed Screens 2 - 5 Odeon Leicester Square(they have their own page on Cinema Treasures). It also re-opened on 21st December 2018 and have a reduced seating capacity of 116 in four screens.

The International Premiere of the Netflix film “The Irishman” was held on 13th October 2019, closing the 2019 BFI London Film Festival. The stars and director of the film attended.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 751 comments)

Lionel
Lionel on April 16, 2021 at 9:56 am

My interest in cinema architecture and equipment faded a bit too. I had started 2020 by retyping on a computer my dissertation written in 1993 about the Empire when I completed my studies, rescanned pictures from books, retouched the colours of the slides I had taken back then. First in my native language, then with an English translation in mind. Then gave up out of exhaustion after Easter (yes, in 2020). I should get at it again and finish the damn thing. I’ll share it on Cinema Treasures when it’s done. I still anticipate our gathering at the Montagu Pyke. Do they have Old Speckled Hen? I love it but can’t find it here on the continent.

CF100
CF100 on September 19, 2021 at 10:04 am

Just to let anyone interested know, I have now recovered from my severe ankle injury to the point that wandering out and about in the West End poses no problem. (You wouldn’t even know unless you asked me to run!)

Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID situation is still something to contend with…

Lionel
Lionel on September 19, 2021 at 10:46 am

@CF100 - Glad to hear that your ankle is alright. COVID safety rules indeed complicate everything. A pity especially for those who got the jab twice. I hoped that, this year, the pandemic would be over and we would be able to travel normally again, and I could have seen Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile in 70mm or 4K at the OLS (or the new James Bond episode).

CF100
CF100 on October 8, 2021 at 12:42 pm

Lionel: Haven’t kept up to speed on the COVID rules regarding entry to the UK, so not sure if there are any real hoops for you to jump through?

I happened to pass through Leicester Square earlier this week, and whilst it was good to see custom Odeon typeface “007” signage on the OLS, the surrounding environs do look somewhat forlorn from the impact of COVID on visitation.

Hopefully things will be closer to normal soon so you are able to visit… I gather that the OLS is even closing tabs at the end of Bond screenings!

CF100
CF100 on November 5, 2021 at 10:41 am

Full “Dollhouse” 3D tour available on private bookings site:

3D Tour.

In addition to the cross-sectional 3D reconstruction, many 360° photos throughout the publicly-accessible areas can be seen.

CF100
CF100 on November 24, 2021 at 6:11 pm

Fred Fullerton (former Chief Projectionist at the Empire Leicester Square) has recently uploaded many videos on YouTube, some of which are particularly special.

Odeon Leicester Square — Safety Curtain.

The above-linked video was taken just before the 1997 refurbishment. Two sets of tabs opening and lowering of the safety curtain can be seen, as well as “The Duchess” Compton organ emerging from the stage.

I had forgotten that the screen used to be positioned so low and at such a steep angle.

Another video shows the matching splay wall decorative lighting feature from 1987:

Odeon Leicester Square — Flo Neon.

I can’t say that I have ever heard of “flo neon,” although I did wonder how that effect was achieved. These days, addressable LED strips could do similar (and more!)

I remember this interesting feature well, however. By the time this video was shot, it looked somewhat dated, partially because it didn’t appear to be under digital control, going by the not-quite-perfect timing. Also, not infrequently, sections would be in need of replacement.

I also found that, whilst I liked it, it gave me an oddly unsettling feeling, rather than being relaxing before the programme… although I’m really not sure why…

At the start of the second video, the “Thieves are Silent” snipe featuring an animated snake can also be seen. Back then, this was also often shown in the old Empire 1.

It is very unfortunate that FanaticalAboutOdeon is no longer with us. He would surely have been delighted to see this footage of those old tabs.

Speaking for myself, however, I am very grateful that these videos have been shared.

CF100
CF100 on December 25, 2021 at 12:45 pm

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to all. Fingers crossed that cinemas will continue to operate at a reasonable level of normalcy!

Lionel
Lionel on December 28, 2021 at 9:37 am

I’m a latecomer for Christmas but I wish you all fellow Cinema Treasurers the best for the coming year. I hope all of you are safe, vaxxed or not.

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