Odeon BFI London IMAX Cinema

1 Charlie Chaplin Walk,
London, SE1 8XR

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Related Websites

Odeon Cinemas Group (Official), British Film Institute - IMAX (Official)

Additional Info

Operated by: Odeon Cinemas Group

Architects: Bryan Avery

Firms: Avery Associates Architects

Functions: Movies, Movies (First Run)

Previous Names: BFI London IMAX Cinema

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 440330.333.7878

Nearby Theaters

Odeon BFI London IMAX Cinema

Operated by the British Film Institute, the BFI London IMAX Cinema is housed in an unusual circular building which is glazed on the exterior. It is located in the centre of a busy traffic round-a-bout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames, and access is gained by under the road passages. The BFI London IMAX Cinema boasts it has the ‘largest screen in the UK…the height of 5 double-decker buses’. It opened on 1st May 1999.

IMAX and 3D IMAX format films play in repertory programming and the cinema also features an increasing number of presentations of the latest releases, which are shown on the giant IMAX screen (but not in the IMAX format).

From 19th July 2012 the Odeon Cinemas Group chain began a 5-year fixed time concession to operate the cinema. It has now been equipped with an IMAX 3D digital projector and a new 20 metres tall x 26 metres wide IMAX digital screen, the largest screen in Great Britain. 70mm film IMAX projectors have been retained for occasional use.

On 19th July 2021 the concession for Odeon Theatres to run the cinema expires and it will be returned to the BFI to operate.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

LARGE_screen_format on June 6, 2018 at 2:15 am

The video you linked to above showing the installation of the IMAX projector at The Empire, Leicester Square mentions the screen weight of 215kg.

I had hoped that the new IMAX screen in Watford would be a decent size seen as it’s being installed in a newly built cinema rather than a retrofit. IMAX with Laser and 12-channel sound system along with luxury seats would be icing on the cake. Fingers-crossed!

Have been to Vue, Watford a bunch of times in the past but not often since Empire Cinemas (later changed hands to Cineworld in 2016 as part of the deal which saw them take over The Empire, Leicester Square) took over the old Odeon in Hemel Hempstead. It’s been extended (now 17-screens including IMAX and SUPERSCREEN) and completely refurbished inside. The foyer area is massive and includes an impressive looking curved canopy with LED screens installed which advertise movies etc. They’ve also opened a Starbucks inside. There’s a large Pizza Express directly next door. Large free car park down the side. There’s a few large business premises here which have been empty since they were built. Wonder what, if anything, is planned to open there?

Going back to Vue, Watford. They only have a couple of reasonably sized screens. Screen 8 which seats 288, screen 2 seats 250, and screen 1 seats 221. Majority of the movies I’ve watched there were on screen 8 otherwise I would go elsewhere. Think this was originally a 5-screen multiplex opened as a Warner Village back in the 90’s? I remember it was one of the few cinemas in the country at the time to be showing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in Dolby Digital EX which added an extra rear centre channel (6.1) so I decided to make that movie my first visit to this cinema. The customer service has left a lot to be desired at peak times. I would not be surprised in the least if attendance figures drop through the floor once the new Cineworld opens. Can’t see anything less than a complete refurbishment turning Vue, Watford into anything that will equal or better the Cineworld. Free parking will be one of the only advantages Vue have over Cineworld. Paying for parking when watching movies at the cinema is one thing I strongly dislike. It would usually prevent me from watching two or more movies in one visit especially during the day.

CF100 on June 6, 2018 at 4:00 pm


The video you linked to above showing the installation of the IMAX projector at The Empire, Leicester Square mentions the screen weight of 215kg.

So it does. :–)

Just doing a quick Google search, Harkness (for instance) say their screens weigh 0.5kg/m2, so:

Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square IMAX – 26.5mx15.6m = 413.4 m2 – at 0.5kg/m2 around 200kg or so and therefore about the same as the weight quoted in the video.

The extra height of the BFI would add about another 50kg, so I suspect the 800kg figure is erroneous.

IMAX with Laser rollout has been very slow and it will be interesting to see if Watford gets it at opening.

Cineworld have just signed an agreement for a number of IMAX with Laser installations (for new and existing sites) and I expect that this mostly relates to the scaled down version that IMAX have said they will provide for smaller venues rather than the existing design for full size/classic “Grand Theatre” IMAXs. The Xenon-based IMAX Digital projectors will work fine with an 80ft. screen, though.

Not surprised by your comments on the Vue Watford! I suspect Vue won’t throw capex at it but if they do then perhaps luxury seating would be a good route for them to take.

I expect Cineworld Watford will cover a few hours of free parking, but not enough to cover seeing multiple features in one session—but perhaps you could leave the car park and reenter it to get another ticket for validation?!

CF100 on October 27, 2018 at 7:02 pm

The BFI IMAX is available to hire via Headbox.com, starting at a mere £6200.

Included in the above-linked page is a gallery of high resolution (if not having sufficient depth of field!) photos.

joeswin on June 6, 2019 at 6:49 am

A new development on this site appears to be in the very early stages, and may never happen – would be a shame if they got rid of this cinema.


CF100 on July 15, 2019 at 2:11 pm

joeswin: I heard rumours about a potential redevelopment some months ago; however, at that time, the only information appeared to be the “Waterloo—Building Height Study, 2018” in which Lambeth Council lists potentially suitable high rise locations. I assumed that these locations were identified on the basis of, e.g. protected sightlines (St. Paul’s, etc.) rather than an indication that any proposals would be forthcoming.

Spending £500K (between Lambeth and TfL) on a feasibility study, as claimed in the article, would seem to be a large sum without a serious prospect of taking a scheme forward.

Alas, the article does not cite any sources, nor can I find any other material to confirm the story.

The article does note that BFI have a 150 year lease on the site, and, further, “the BFI will be invited to be a consultee but will be bound by a tripartite confidentiality agreement with TfL and Lambeth.”

So, it would remain to be seen if any scheme incorporates a replacement, à la Sydney Harbour.

Internally, the auditorium itself is a textbook IMAX with little of unique interest, and the foyer/circulatory areas are, in my view, bland.

However, externally and taken as a whole it must be considered a unique piece of “real architecture” woven into a difficult setting… it works since you leave the busy surrounding area into a “sub-grade” oasis leading to the cinema.

It has been placed on the 20th Century Society top 10 at risk list.

I can’t imagine anything less than a tremendous public outcry—the building is absolutely an iconic London landmark (arguably more than any other operating cinema, including the Odeon Leicester Square—not to say it is “better,” simply that it could be stuck on a montage with the “London Eye” and “Big Ben.”)

Alas, it would seem to be not quite old enough to be listed; to quote Historic England, “Buildings less than 30 years old are not normally considered to be of special architectural or historic interest because they have yet to stand the test of time,” which may explain an apparent eagerness to start working up a replacement now.

The prospect of a replacement may also explain why BFI still haven’t upgraded to IMAX with Laser projection, albeit it could always be moved over? If there were to be a replacement, then one could well imagine that the 15/70 GT projector would fall by the wayside due to its size and weight.

rivest266 on August 5, 2021 at 10:20 am

1999 newspaper contest ad posted.

CF100 on November 5, 2021 at 1:33 pm

Full “Dollhouse” 3D tour available on private bookings site:

3D Tour.

In addition to the cross-sectional 3D reconstruction, many 360° photos throughout the publicly-accessible areas can be seen.

Looking at photos of the auditorium, it appears that some more recent changes have been made. The sidewall fabric looks darker, and new decorative lighting added.

The screen frame and speakers are visible, including the “Kanga” speakers for GT venues. (The older IMAX “Proportional Point Source” speakers were replaced in 2012 when a new screen was installed.)

Non-IMAX speakers can also be seen, including the very strange arrangement of two sets of screen speakers with neither of the two centre speakers quite centrally positioned, as well as the rear array on the auditorium side/back walls.

Obviously, no IMAX sides/overheads as IMAX with Laser upgrade has not occurred, hence 12 channel IMAX audio is not supported.

CF100 on November 5, 2021 at 1:37 pm

According to an article published on the 1st September 2021, which links to reports from Lambeth Council, feasibility studies for an “office-led” scheme encompassing the IMAX site continue, with a further £150,000 funding allocated.

One may still be slightly puzzled as to why laser light source projection has not been installed, for it could always be moved over to any replacement venue built as part of such a scheme, and it has been six years since the IMAX GT dual-laser projection system was installed in Leicester Square…

But it does seem to be the most likely explanation for the lack of substantial investment in this ever-popular venue; another example being the auditorium seating, which looks very tired.

Thejacksmit on June 13, 2022 at 8:21 am

The BFI will take over operations/programming of the IMAX from Odeon on July 19th 2022, ahead of a full relaunch in the autumn - no word on whether the laser projectors will go in at this stage though.

CF100 on July 5, 2023 at 12:45 am

IMAX with Laser was installed (with the 70mm GT projection retained.) However, IMAX’s “CoLA” (Commercial Laser) single projection system was installed, rather than the dual projection system (Laser GT.) It does not support 1.43:1 (max. height is 1.9:1.)

I have not revisited the progress (or otherwise) of the above-mentioned redevelopment scheme, though anything “office-led” would seem less viable in today’s “post-COVID” world.

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