Odeon Leicester Square

Odeon Leicester Square
Odeon Leicester Square in 2006
Address Leicester Square
London, WC2
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°30′38″N 0°07′45″W / 51.510556°N 0.129167°W / 51.510556; -0.129167Coordinates: 51°30′38″N 0°07′45″W / 51.510556°N 0.129167°W / 51.510556; -0.129167
Public transit Leicester Square
Type Cinema
Capacity 1,679
Opened 2 November 1937 (1937-11-02)
Odeon Leicester Square

The Odeon Leicester Square is a cinema which occupies the centre of the eastern side of Leicester Square in London, dominating the square with its huge black polished granite facade and 120 feet (37 m) high tower displaying its name. Blue neon outlines the exterior of the building at night. It was built to be the flagship[1] of Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Cinema Circuit and still holds that position today. It hosts numerous European and world film premieres[2][3][4][5] including the annual Royal Film Performance.[6]


The Odeon was completed by Sir Robert McAlpine in 1937[7] to the design of Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather on the site of the Turkish baths and the adjoining Alhambra Theatre a large music hall dating from the 1850s. The site cost £550,000, the cinema took seven months to build at a cost of £232,755[1] with 2116 seats.[8] The opening night was Tuesday 2 November 1937; the film shown that night was The Prisoner of Zenda.[1]

The interior was a magnificent art-deco auditorium, with a ribbed ceiling and sidewalls, featuring concealed strip lighting in coves, and two bas relief sculptures of naked nymphs were positioned on the front splay walls, as if leaping towards the screen. All the seats were covered in a faux-leopard skin material. A modernisation in 1967 removed many of the original features, with all of the ribbed plasterwork from the balcony to the proscenium replaced by smooth finishes. A refurbishment in 1998 included new versions of some lost details, including the figures, and seating upholstery pattern.

The first wide-screen (screen ratio 1.66:1) ever installed in Great Britain was premiered on 14 May 1953,[9] the film shown was Tonight We Sing. The British debut of CinemaScope (screen ratio 2.55:1) following soon after on 19 November 1953[10] with the quasi-biblical epic, The Robe. The first cinema to show cinemascope in London was the Odeon Tottenham Court Road (9 June 1953) which was also the venue for the first screening of Cinerama.[11]

The theatre's Chief Engineer, Nigel Wolland, was awarded an MBE for services to the film industry in 2007.[12] The theatre's general manager, Chris Hilton, was awarded an MBE for services to the film industry in 2010.[13]

After Nigel Wolland's retirement in 2006, Mark Nice was appointed the cinema's Chief Engineer. Mark Nice has recently been promoted the position of Odeon Engineer with Toni Purvis & Michael Mannix assuming the role of Operations Manager Digital.

Technical specifications

The Odeon is the largest single-screen cinema in the United Kingdom and one of the few with its circle and stalls remaining intact. The cinema is fully equipped to show films in 35mm, 70mm and digital on a 48ft. wide screen, as well as extensive stage facilities for the occasional live show.

The cinema still has an operating Compton organ, its console lit from within by coloured lighting, and a safety curtain detailed in 1930s art-deco motifs.

Two sets of tabs (curtains) are also installed and used for most performances. The cinema houses all major digital sound systems: Sony Dynamic Digital Sound, Dolby Digital and DTS. It had the UK's first wide-screen installed in 1953, and more recently, was the first to have a digital projector installed in 1999.

There are 1683 seats – reduced from nearly 2000 to make way for greater leg-room – with a large circle bar and even "Royal Retiring Room" for visiting monarchs. Seating is divided between the Royal Circle, Rear Circle and Stalls.

In March 2011, all the cinema's screens converted to Digital Projection equipment with 3D capability. Up until 2009 the cinema and film distributors did not have faith in the reliability of digital presentations, so the cinema would run a 35mm print alongside. If the digital show failed the projectionist would switch to film. If that projector then failed, the performance would be abandoned. One 35mm/70mm projector has been retained, and has been used for recent 70mm releases including Interstellar, The Hateful Eight, and Dunkirk. A silver screen is used for 3D presentations, placed in front of the white screen used for 2D presentations. The silver screen is a fraction smaller and screen tabs are not used during 3D performances. Most of the trained projectionists at the Odeon retired, or were made redundant in 2011. Presentations are now mostly automated.

Odeon Studios

Inserted into what was once an alleyway running alongside the main house, is "Odeon Studios," a "mini-plex" containing five much smaller auditoria, each seating between 50 and 60 patrons. It was originally named "Odeon Mezzanine," but was rebranded following a refurbishment in 2012.

Future Developments

Odeon plans on a full refurbishment at a projected cost of £10-15m, which will see the building retained as a single screen cinema with stalls and circle levels, with the stated intention to maintain its character.[14] The cinema closed on January 10th 2018 to facilitate the refurbishment, with an anticipated reopening in time for the BFI London Film Festival.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 page 131, Odeon Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation, Allen Eyles, 2002, British Film Institute Publishing
  2. Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe. "Cinema Treasures – Odeon Leicester Square". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 16 November 2009.
  3. Odeon Leicester Square: World Premiere of 'Harry Potter' And The Deathly Hallows Pt 1 MTV Retrieved 24 March 2011
  4. The world premiere of Avatar at Odeon Leicester Square The Telegraph Retrieved 24 March 2011
  5. Alice in Wonderland premiere in Leicester Square, London The Telegraph Retrieved 24 March 2011
  6. Casino Royale is 60th royal film BBC News Retrieved 24 March 2011
  7. "A portrait of achievement" (PDF). Sir Robert McAlpine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 May 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  8. page 247, Odeon Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation, Allen Eyles, 2002, British Film Institute Publishing
  9. page 40, Odeon Cinemas 2: From J. Arthur Rank to the Multiplex, Allen Eyles, 2005, British Film Institute Publishing
  10. page 41, Odeon Cinemas 2: From J. Arthur Rank to the Multiplex, Allen Eyles, 2005, British Film Institute Publishing
  11. "Odeon Tottenham Court Road". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  12. "New Year Honours: full list". The Times, London, 29 December 2007.
  13. Ex-Leicester Square Odeon cinema boss Chris Hilton awarded MBE in Honours List West End Extra Retrieved 24 March 2011
  14. Robert Mitchell (11 April 2017). "AMC to Undertake Major Refurbishment of London's Iconic Odeon Leicester Square". Variety Media, LLC. Retrieved 7 September 2017.


  • Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 128 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
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