The IMAX is currently closed while the museum undergoes a once-in-a-generation transformation, but it will be back and better than ever in summer 2024. In the meantime, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of our IMAX highlights from the last four decades.
Opening in April 1983 with a special showing of To Fly!, a 1976 documentary about the history of flight, from early balloons through to space missions, the IMAX was Europe’s first permanent IMAX cinema—and the next one didn’t arrive on UK soil until 15 years later.
Projected in 70mm onto the gigantic 19.7m by 15.9m screen, To Fly! was a spectacle like no other. In this throwback blog post, former IMAX Theatre Manager Dick Vaughn reflects on that very first screening:
“Watching the audience’s reaction as the image filled our giant screen and they were carried over the edge of Niagara Falls is something I will never forget. You could see them leaning back in their seats and grabbing the arm rests.”
Over the years the IMAX has seen millions of visitors, with epic screenings of blockbusters—from the Harry Potter films to the latest Marvel adventures—to daily screenings of the ever-popular IMAX 45-minute documentaries. If you speak to anyone who grew up in the region, it’s highly likely they have a fond memory to share about a school trip to see a documentary in IMAX, with Walking With Dinosaurs, Antarctica and A Beautiful Planet among fan favourites.
The original IMAX projector used a ‘rolling loop’ of 70mm film, with each frame of film ten times the size of a standard 35mm film frame. Today a digital projector is used, and blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick and James Bond: No Time to Die have sequences filmed specially for IMAX, fitting more action onto the screen.
Jennifer Weston-Beyer, Cinema Operations Manager, has worked at the museum since the early 1990s. She remembers training on the original IMAX projector in 1992:
“Only documentary films of around 45 minutes were played back then, as the system hadn’t been designed for feature films at that point—until The Rolling Stones made their concert film, Live at the Max. This had to play in two 45-minute halves to allow for the change of film and rethreading. I was always up for a night out after watching that film! We still run documentaries to this day, and I think my favourites would have to be the space films, Blue Planet, Destiny in Space, Hubble and Space Station. Astronauts took IMAX cameras up into space and looked back at the Earth. The footage is absolutely stunning, it fills your field of view.”
After 30 years at the job, the IMAX needed some TLC. In 2015, the screen and auditorium underwent a major transformation, with a brand-new 60ft by 80ft screen and upgraded seating installed.
The IMAX is currently closed while the museum undergoes a transformation as part of our Sound and Vision project. While it has a little rest, cinemagoers can still enjoy an enhanced programme of films at Pictureville Cinema and Bar, open seven days a week.
Do you have a memory of visiting the IMAX? We’d love to hear about it! Let us know in the comments below or message us through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.