Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater

10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20560

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Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater

An immersive 3D experience in the Johnson IMAX Theater will excite your students about new scientific research. During school visit hours, the theater shows curriculum-relevant films connected to the Museum’s collections and exhibitions and reviewed by Museum scientists and educators.

The Johnson IMAX Theater in the National Museum of Natural History features the latest in IMAX film technology, including a six-story-tall screen and a state-of-the-art digital surround sound system. It was closed in 2017.

Contributed by Daniel Garrett Irwin

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

Giles on October 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I know the audio announcement before the feature mentions the dimensions of the screen – but I’m having a senior moment – what is it? 90ft by ___? Of the three Smithsonian IMAX screens this is my favorite. The screen seems the largest, the seats are more comfortable, the interior decor more chic (at least in my opinion). Unfortunately due to the government shutdown this Friday’s opening of ‘Titans of the Ice Age 3D’ has been postponed.

Giles on December 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

did a double feature this morning saw ‘Titans of the Ice Age’ and ‘Jerusalem 3D’ – the latter was just spectacular. Oh and for the record, the screen is 66 feet tall / 90 feet wide

Giles on May 3, 2014 at 10:40 am

FYI: all IMAX features at all three Smithsonian theaters are $5 til the 22nd of May.

Giles on October 9, 2014 at 1:52 pm

from an article regarding the conversion from 15/70 to digital projection on the IMAX screen:

“All three of Smithsonian’s IMAX theaters will close from January to March 2015 to convert from film to digital.”

from this online article:

Giles on October 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm

the article is not entirely accurate – this screen and the Udvar Hazy theater will get the upgrade but the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater will get the conversion later. Here though the lazer system will require a new screen, but it will retain the full the 66ft by 90ft dimensions.

JodarMovieFan on July 25, 2017 at 7:05 am

There was a news report on the local news station WTOP that this venue was to be shut down by Sept 30. Someone had put up a website to stop it with an online petition. Reportedly, the Smithsonian wants to expand the restaurant by getting rid of the theater.

With all the money spent on upgrades to laser, one would think they would’ve thought about this before shutting it down. What a waste.

I thought I put a comment on seeing Star Wars Episode II way back in the early 00s or 2003 :P I remember after the opening crawl and the camera slow pans down to Coruscant, the audience just went ahhhhh because of the vastness it all..planet, space and ships. Very immersive. Also, they had to trim the movie to make it all fit. We won’t talk about the bad acting, but it was still a lot of fun.

HowardBHaas on July 25, 2017 at 9:10 am One of the well-known IMAX theaters on the National Mall will close this fall. The Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, which opened in 1999, is scheduled to close on Sept. 30, and some filmmakers are putting up a fight. About 7 million people visit the Natural History Museum every year — and 3.4 million this year to date. The IMAX theater at the museum is the only dedicated IMAX space for movies about nature and the threats facing our world today.

The theater has six-story screen — the largest of its kind in D.C. To put that into perspective, that’s taller than many of the District’s iconic brownstones.

But now, its days are numbered. The Smithsonian says they’re closing the theater to make room for an expanded exhibition area and a cafeteria.

A spokesperson for the Smithsonian wasn’t available for comment, but a dozen producers and filmmakers have plenty to say about the theater’s closure.

“Why are they taking it away?” asked filmmaker Jonathan Barker, who notes the important educational purpose of the theater.

Barker and about a dozen other filmmakers sent a letter to the head of the museum, and started a petition to save the IMAX. If the theater goes, he worries about where thousands of kids will watch movies that connect them to the outside world.

For Barker, it’s a matter of priorities.

“The idea that at this point in our state in North America, that a decision would be made by the Natural History Museum — the leading natural history museum in — that what our children need is less nature and more fast food. It’s just shocking to me,” Barker said.

Barker and the other filmmakers want to know if expanding food services doesn’t have to come with the cost of losing the theater. They’ve asked the director of the museum to disclose the financial reasons behind their decision, and get public input before closing the theater.

Giles on September 13, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Greg MacGillivray’s ‘Opinion’ article/writeup in last Sunday’s Washington Post:

“In an increasingly noisy and distracted world, it is often hard to capture people’s attention for more than a few minutes. A casualty of our distracted age is our broken connection with the natural world and all its wonders.

And yet, it is technology that helps bridge that gap through the power of film. Not just any film — Imax film, in all its sweeping 70-millimeter grandeur. One Imax screen in particular now needs to be protected from demolition.

Unless something changes, on Oct. 1, the iconic Samuel C. Johnson Imax Theater at the National Museum of Natural History will go dark. The Smithsonian Institution is tearing it down to make way for an expanded cafeteria. I have tremendous respect for the Smithsonian, but this decision of fast food over documentary nature films is a disservice to the public and to the educational mission of this 171-year-old institution. This theater is the country’s premier venue for those without the luxury and means to travel the world to experience the grandeur of nature. It is the only theater in the nation’s capital dedicated to showing Imax films about nature, from the depths of the oceans to the harshest deserts, from the top of Mount Everest to the lush Amazon rain forests.

I know a bit about the power of Imax films. I had the honor of producing “To Fly,” the 1976 Imax film that introduced an entire generation of moviegoers to the six-story screens of this incredible, large-as-life format. Since then, I’ve produced some three dozen documentary nature films in Imax, including “The Living Sea,” “Everest” and “National Parks Adventure.” My company’s body of work has grossed more than $1 billion in box-office sales around the world, about 80 percent of which goes to the museums and science centers where these films play. I have shot more Imax 70-millimeter film than any cinematographer in history.

Before the wrecking balls start swinging, I urge the museum and its supporters to think about what we are about to lose.

The Johnson Imax Theater sees hundreds of thousands of people through its doors every year, tens of thousands of them schoolchildren with discounted tickets. They come to the museum, run past the massive elephant in the foyer on their way to other exhibits, stop by the giant squid for a brief moment to gasp in wonder and walk through the skeletons of dinosaurs. These are memorable but brief experiences.

And then they go to the Imax theater. Here, for 45 minutes, they are immersed in a single topic. They fly above Yellowstone, explore the singular beauty of our world, and meet scientists and explorers who are driven by the need to explain it. Do we really think cheeseburgers and fries are more important to the mission of one of the most iconic museums in the United States?

I don’t. Our world has so many challenges facing it right now. Climate change that will force populations to move in record numbers. Dwindling natural resources for the 7.5 billion people on our planet, double the population when I picked up my first camera to shoot black-and-white surfing films in California 50 years ago.

Our children are the ones who will be faced with solving the most complex problems in human history. If they are to do that, they need to be inspired by what they are fighting to save.

The Smithsonian is the standard by which other museums are measured. The educational and behavioral power of Smithsonian exhibits is magnified by the Imax experience. These films evoke change in those who see them. Food court revenue may be attractive on paper, but the true cost appears to be lost in the equation. Are the exhibits valued for the revenue generated or for the value they bring to the public? The Imax experience creates value and revenue. These films inspire change, create wonder and encourage children to pursue science careers, care for our world and expand their minds.

The Smithsonian should open the discussion to a public dialogue. There has to be a better way to increase space for concessions at the museum without losing this powerful tool for learning and moving hearts and minds."

Giles on October 13, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Sadly now this can be denoted as ‘closed’

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