Cineworld Cinema - Leicester Square

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Related Websites

Cineworld Cinemas UK (Official)

Additional Info

Operated by: Cineworld

Previously operated by: Empire Cinemas UK, Loew's Inc., UCI Theatres

Architects: Frederick (Francis) Graham Moon Chancellor, George Coles, Thomas White Lamb, Frank T. Verity, Thomas Verity

Firms: Chapman Taylor, Frank Matcham & Company, UNICK Architects

Functions: Movies (First Run)

Styles: Adam, Italian Renaissance

Previous Names: Empire Theatre, Empire 1 & 3, UCI Empire Cinema, Empire Leicester Square, Cineworld Cinema - at the Empire

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 440871.200.2000

Nearby Theaters

News About This Theater

Empire Cinema

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 façade and foyer was built on Leicester Square, designed by Frank T. Verity. This façade 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 Adam style 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 which was opened by organist Sandy MacPherson and he was organist for the following nine years. The Leicester Square landmark also had an opulent lobby and all the normal regalia of an American movie palace, its interior resembled the Thomas Lamb designed Capitol Theatre in Manhattan, New York, its exterior is in the Italian Renaissance style and is an almost identical copy of the façade of Thomas W. Lamb’s E.F. Albee Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio of 1927. The auditorium was in an Adam 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 December 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 façade was entirely covered by a new advertising hoarding. On 25th November 1965 the World Premiere of “Lady 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 and the film ran until 9th September 1968. This was followed by a revival of “Gone With the Wind”, presented in 70mm which ran for 10 months. “Ryan’s Daughter” was presented in 70mm from 9th December 1970 until 2nd February 1972. Loew’s/MGM sold the Empire Cinema to Cinema International Corporation(CIC) in 1973.

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 separately as ‘Cineworld at the Empire Theatre - Screen 2’ on this site, and has a current seating capacity of 349). The façade 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. In May 2007 the downstairs ballroom was converted into a casino. On 20th June 2008, two new screens 4 & 5 opened in spaces that had originally 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 723-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 718 comments)

CF100 on October 5, 2020 at 7:49 am

News coming in quickly on this—cinemas are being “mothballed” for now, debt restructuring initiated.

CP200 on October 7, 2020 at 3:46 pm

Well best news I have read. Empire 1 is long gone and I’m glad cinemas futures are bleak I couldn’t care less. Cinema in uk was dead when Empire 1 was killed by empire cinemas. Well I have no time to die, care for any bond movie or any movie. I hope imax liemax goes bust.

Ron Knee
Ron Knee on December 12, 2020 at 10:14 am

Yes, the Sheds and Warehouses that are called cinemas are within sight, they were really only there to sell food, not interested in those of us who wished to enjoy the film!!!! Now that Disney has joined Warners, who will be next?


CP200 on December 13, 2020 at 2:59 pm

Couldn’t care less about, disney or its star wars.

Now Warner Bros, what I find interesting is the 70mm Dolby Megasound on few movies, Wolfen, Superman II, Altered States,Outland.

CP200 on December 20, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Does cineworld still Liemaxing to the public as well as consumer rubbish Liemax for home cinema.

Okay now lets Roast imax corp, sound department and mixers that lie with LIEMAX sound mixes cos I believe along with stop the fomo, is correct and I never seen a Liemax myself only an imax that is rubbish with fake sub bass that only uses it from the fullrange 6ch. I never liked imax and certainly do not like Liemax. Empire 1 was perfect with JBL THX of the original 89 install.

CF100 on April 14, 2021 at 2:58 pm

Ron Knee:

the Sheds and Warehouses that are called cinemas are within sight, they were really only there to sell food, not interested in those of us who wished to enjoy the film!!!

Concessions have been a key part of the cinema “business model” for as long as I’ve been alive, and probably going back decades before.

There are plenty of aspects of cinema operation to grumble about, and in my writeups on this site I even mention a poor signal-to-noise ratio on the left surrounds!

Cineworld, however, were investing in top-of-the-line “IMAX with Laser” screens. All IMAX digital screens feature daily automatic recalibration systems (for audio, they use a version of Audyssey EQ, as found in various consumer AV receivers) and are connected to IMAX’s Network Operations Centre in Mississauga, Canada… Suffice it to say, the picture won’t be out of focus!

Modern cinema auditoria may lack the decorative aspects of yore, but they invariably are built with double stud walls full of Rockwool, neoprene isolation pads, acoustic absorption on all walls behind stretched fabric, and so on. Not to mention comfortable seating and excellent sightlines.

Here’s some blurb on the “Acoustic Isolation of Cinemas”:

Mason UK - Vibration Control - Acoustic Isolation of Cinemas.

rivest266 on May 19, 2021 at 8:16 am

1962 and 1985 grand opening ads posted.

CF100 on September 19, 2021 at 6:06 am

Thank you rivest266. That does bring into sharp relief just how long ago it was! The 1960’s auditorium combined modernism with traditional theatrical elements in a way that, unlike those adverts, it never felt dated (even if for practical purposes, it was.)

CF100 on October 15, 2021 at 1:51 pm

Photos of the old Empire 1 (press conference with actor Robert Vaughn) taken in 1966:

Photo 1.

Photo 2.

Shame they are not colour!

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