Empire Cinemas - London Haymarket

63-65 Haymarket,
London, SW1Y 4RQ

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Empire Cinemas UK (Official)

Additional Info

Operated by: Empire Cinemas UK

Previously operated by: Cannon Cinemas, Cineworld, Classic Cinemas (UK), Fox Circuit, MGM Theatres, Paramount Theatres (UK), UGC, Virgin Cinemas

Architects: Samuel Beverley, Francis Thomas Verity

Firms: Verity and Beverley

Styles: Adam, Italian Renaissance, Spanish Renaissance

Previous Names: Carlton Theatre, Classic, Cannon, MGM, Virgin, UGC, Cineworld Cinema - Haymarket

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 440871.200.2000
Manager: 440207.370.2110

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News About This Theater

Empire Cinemas - London Haymarket

Designed for either film or stage use by Adolph Zukor’s Paramount Pictures Inc., it was envisaged as a smaller version of their Plaza Theatre in nearby Lower Regent Street, also designed for Paramount Pictures Inc. by architectural firm Verity & Beverley. The Carlton Theatre opened on 27th April 1927 with a musical play “Lady Luck” starring Leslie Henson which ran for 324 performances. This was followed by a musical comedy drama “The Yellow Mask” by Edgar Wallace which transferred to His Majesty’s Theatre along the Haymarket. The next production was the American college life musical “Good News”. After this closed the Carlton Theatre screened its first film when, on 26th March 1928 “Wings” starring Clara Bow & Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers had its UK premiere run of four months. Returning to stage shows, a revue “In Other Words” starred George Robey at the end of 1928 and the last stage show to play at the Carlton Theatre was “Merry Merry” starring Peggy O'Neil which opened in February 1929 and later transferred to the Lyceum Theatre.

Seating was provided for a total capacity of 1,159 in stalls (which were below street level), a small mezzanine Royal circle at street level and a large upper balcony. There were boxes containing seating each side of the proscenium opening. The proscenium was 42 feet wide, the stage was 45 feet deep and there were 14 dressing rooms.

The Carlton Theatre was wired for sound in 1929 and went over to become a full-time cinema. The first regular film to be screened was Chester Morris in “The Perfect Alibi”(aka-“Alibi”). Paramount Pictures Inc. took over the Carlton Theatre fully in 1930.

On 1st March 1954 it was taken over by 20th Century-Fox and became the West End showcase cinema for their CinemaScope productions, opening with the UK premiere of “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” starring Gilbert Roland & Robert Wagner (the second CinemaScope production after “The Robe”). On 3rd June 1959 the ‘Exclusive London Presentation’ of the roadshow version of Millie Perkins in “The Diary of Anne Frank” had its ‘By Invitation’ premiere. It opened to the public the following day, with evening performances for the evenings of 4th, 9th, 10th, 16th & 18th June already ‘Sold Out’. The stage was brought back into use briefly in March 1960, when Anthony Newley performed in “The Anthony Newley Show”, a special show which was staged during the run of his feature film “Let’s Get Married”. The World Premiere of “Guns at Batasi” was held on 24th September 1964. The World Premiere of “The Flight of the Phoenix” was held at the Carlton Theatre on 20th January 1966. The Royal World Premiere of “A Countess from Hong Kong” was held on 5th January 1967. Directed by Charlie Chaplin and starring Marlon Brando & Sophia Loren, Chaplin, Brando & Loren were among the attendees at the premiere.

There were hopes that the Carlton Theatre would be designated a Grade II Listed building, but it was turned down by English Heritage. The Carlton Theatre closed on 20th August 1977 with Oliver Reed in “The Prince and the Pauper”(aka-“Crossed Swords”) being the last film to be screened in the original single auditorium. The stage and dressing room block was sold off to developers and were demolished for an office block to be built on the site, known as Samuel House.

The Classic Cinemas chain took over and the auditorium was split into three screens, with screen 1 in the old upper balcony seating 491 and screens 2 and 3 in the former stalls seating 201 and 222. The former mezzanine Royal circle was sealed off and became office and staff areas. It reopened as the Classic Haymarket 1-2-3 on 10th January 1979 with a Gala Premiere in Screen 1 of Elliot Gould in “Capricorn One”. On 6th December 1985 it came under the ownership of Cannon. In March 1992 MGM took over followed by Virgin from 5th July 1996. It was taken over by UGC on 3rd March 2000, and latterly Cineworld from 22nd July 2005 until closing in January 2008.

On 2nd February 2008, the former upper balcony screen re-opened as the 440 seat Cinema Haymarket. The main Screen 1 was converted into a live theatre with the play “Brief Encounter” based on the David Lean film. Sequences in the play use digital projection as well as the live performances on a new stage which has been built on the front of the seating area. The two mini-cinemas in the former stalls area initially closed, but soon re-opened, screening first run films again. The run of “Brief Encounter” ended on 21st November 2008 and the main upstairs auditorium reverted back to cinema use, with the building becoming the Cineworld again. When the Empire Leicester Square was taken over by Cineworld in late-July 2016, they also ‘exchanged’ the Cineworld Haymarket and it was re-named Empire Cinemas London Haymarket from 7th April 2017. On 2nd March 2018 the play “Brief Encounter” returned to the main auditorium for a planned extended run until 9th September 2018. However, “Brief Encounter” ended its run early on 22nd July 2018 and the Empire has re-opened as a cinema on 31st August 2018 with a new larger screen and new seats. Screens 2 & 3 will be refurbished in early-2019. The exterior of the building has been cleaned.

Following several attempts by the Cinema Theatre Association with the assistance of the Theatres Trust to get the building listed, it was given a Grade II Listed building status by Heritage England on 17th October 2018. The Crown Estates who own the building had been planning demolition, apart from the façade to build a shopping precinct. They had to rethink their plans for the site. In July 2020 it was announced that the cinema would be refurbished. The two small screens in the former stalls area would each be twinned, creating a 5-screen cinema. The main screen 1 in the former upper balcony would be re-stepped to allow for larger seats and the long abandoned bars in the basement and balcony levels would be refurbished and returned to use as bars.

The planned refurbishments were dashed in April 2023 when the Crown Estates announced they were going ahead with their previous plans to demolish the building (but save the façade) to build a shopping precinct on the site. It was announced on 9th May 2023 that the cinema would close on 11th May 2023 with “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Suzume”(Japanese animation, subtitled), “The Pope’s Exorcist”, “The Three Musketeers:D'Artagnan” & “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”.

It has now been decided that the cinema will not be demolished, and it will be refurbished and restored. The main screen in the former balcony will be retained, but the two screens in the former stalls seating area will be reconfigured. The advertising lightbox on the facade will be removed and the facade cleaned. An adjacent building on Haymarket will be demolished, as will the office building which was built on the site of the stagehouse. It is not known which operator will take over the building.

Contributed by Ian Grundy, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 143 comments)

SethLewis on February 27, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Slightly under appreciated because of its location it will be great to have this back if the programming is differentiated enough from the other LS theatres…one of the few times I was stuck in the front row - opening weekend of Presumed Innocent it was actually survivable

rivest266 on May 20, 2021 at 4:32 pm

This reopened as the Classic Haymarket 1, 2 & 3 on January 10th, 1979. Grand opening ad posted.

CF100 on October 16, 2021 at 1:56 am

Thank you, Zappomatic, for the planning reference.

It turns out that the proposals are extensive indeed, and need to be seen in the context of building’s 2018 listing.

In particular, the freeholder is the Crown Estate, who are redeveloping the surrounding area (“St. James’s Market Phase 2”), with Chapman Taylor as their architect, and from the Design and Access Statement:

  • “The works undertaken by the landlord [my emphasis], which form part of this application for listed building consent, would include…”

In summary, the following: basement cinema auditoria reconfiguration, new lifts, restoration/alterations to the façade, and–

  • “the repair of historic interiors and the reinstatement of lost detail in the main auditorium and sub-basement bar.”

It further states that:

“Other works would be at the operator’s discretion and would be subject to a further application for listed building consent[…] The operator would also refurbish areas that do not contribute to the significance of the listed building and may not require listed building consent.” However, “indicative” proposals for said refurbishment are given in this application.

The proposals include retail/offices behind, which at upper levels will–-I kid you not!–-“overhang” the cinema’s roof–hidden behind the existing front parapet.

The work is proposed to be “conservation-led” with the retention/restoration of remaining original or replica fabric and finishes, and sympathetic treatment to surrounding areas. This includes stripping of paint and sampling of original colours, as well referencing relevant heritage colours and finishes.

Alas, the planning application documents are very much “TL;DR.” However, for anyone interested, or for academic purposes, there is a wealth of information, including historic, within the Design and Access Statement–a very high level of attention to detail being demonstrated.

(Read: I’m too tired to properly digest and summarise them.)

Luxury seating will be installed throughout with the stadia in Screen 1 reprofiled over the original. The four basement auditoria will be “back-to-back” (like the IMAX/Superscreen over at Cineworld Leicester Square), are more symmetrically shaped than the existing centrally-subdivided original stalls, and the replacement screens look to be about the same size as the existing.

The scheme looks to be very much be in the vein of “arthouse” operators such as Curzon, Everyman or Picturehouse; and, of course, there is much space available (and proposed to be used) for presumably upmarket food and beverage offers, as in bars, lounges, etc.

Empire Cinemas do have their own similar premium brand, “Tivoli,” with sites in Bath and Cheltenham–so perhaps they will adopt the same branding here? Incidentally, the website of Tivoli states that they use laser projection, so one might have high expectations here in respect of audio/visual presentation quality.

Should these works be completed as detailed or similar to that indicated in these proposals, I imagine some contributors to this site will be absolutely delighted.

HowardBHaas on November 3, 2021 at 4:38 pm

The new Edgar Wright horror movie, “Last Night in Soho” shows a theater with “Thunderball” as part of 1960s swinging London. This theater, the Haymarket was used for that shot! Not sure if any interiors of the Haymarket were used in the film, did not see the lobby or any views of the auditorium as such, though there was some red backgrounds that might have been used in the film in interior scenes.

Lionel on November 4, 2021 at 8:02 am

I too recognized the architecture of the Carlton/Haymarket around the Thunderball marquee when I watched the trailer but I have no other information. Howard, was the film good? I’m always eager to see a film set in London.

HowardBHaas on November 4, 2021 at 10:51 am

Lionel, yes, “Last Night in Soho” was very exciting and very much set in London. It is worthwhile.

CF100 on November 9, 2021 at 11:41 pm

Somehow, I didn’t notice the façade of this theatre in the trailer, until someone pointed it out to me!

How images were acquired/created would be interesting–the old neon spectacular adverts at Piccadilly Circus (aka Piccadilly Lights) also make an appearance in the trailer, so perhaps they are CGI versions composited in. Highly likely the case for the large format “Thunderball” advert on this cinema’s façade that appears in the trailer.

I did enjoy “Baby Driver” for the cinematography and otherwise being well put together; great fun. Reviews for this have been lukewarm. Hmm.

HowardBHaas: Good to hear that you really liked the film!

HowardBHaas on June 13, 2022 at 1:11 pm

This remains one of my favorite movie theaters to visit when I visit London (from Philadelphia) as I did last month, after a Pandemic pause for me since 2019. Renovations mentioned above have not taken place yet. I posted photos of the main upstairs auditorium and the foyer, both of which I love since they are ornate. I saw “Top Gun: Maverick” which looked great on the huge screen and sounded great with 7.1 surround sound.

empirefan on February 14, 2023 at 5:26 pm

Suddenly we’re in 2023! Is there any news about what should be a very exciting re-furb???

FB on May 15, 2023 at 2:22 pm

Now closed as of last Thursday.

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