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IMAX comes to Europe: 40 years of Bradford’s biggest screen

This year we're celebrating not only 40 years of the National Science and Media Museum, but also the 40th birthday of the region’s biggest screen—our beloved IMAX.

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.

To Fly! at the IMAX

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.

A CGI scene of a dinosaur by a waterfall
Walking with Dinosaurs

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.

IMAX digital projection technology

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 auditorium under renovation in 2015.

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.

5 comments on “IMAX comes to Europe: 40 years of Bradford’s biggest screen

  1. Brilliant!
    I remember watching “To Fly” in the early days of the IMAX, it was absolutely excellent and, yes, we did grip the edge of our seat!

    1. We wnt in the 80s to see To Fly. I also remembering seeing a film about the Grand Canyon.

  2. To Fly was the perfect introduction to the original IMAX system the truly big screen. My dad brought the family to watch it comparing it to when he saw Cinerama in the 1950’s when he dragged his mum and dad to that. I was only 8 when I saw To Fly, the first of many times over the years. It set off the film technology bug that is alive and kicking and my occupation to this day.

  3. I have been many times to watch film’s at the IMAX, the film’s take on a hole new experience and the film’s soundtrack are unreal. The thing I still can’t get my head around is when you enter into the cinema from the ground floor, you go up a few steps turning left or right depending on your seat no find your seat and enjoy the show. After the picture has finished you leave at the rear of the theatre to exit. Now I’m not joking, you’re (5 floors up)??? from the ground floor and the exits.

  4. My all time favourite was “ Rolling Stones: Live at the Max “
    It was shown in Los Angeles in 1991 and at Bradford’s Imax in 1992!
    Superb music with Superb sound, and of course sensational visuals.
    It would be great to see it again. Any chance?

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