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Academy Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Joshua White, JWPictures/©Academy Museum FoundationAcademy Awards History gallery, Stories of Cinema 2, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

8 things to know before you visit the Academy Museum

Including whether the Oscars Experience is worth it and what you’ll find inside the collection.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

Aside from studio tours, Los Angeles somehow never had a full-fledged movie museum before, but that all changes now that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is finally open.

The museum is split into two buildings, one of them with three floors of exhibition space and the other with a grand theater and rooftop terrace. And there’s a lot to see, from Dorothy’s ruby slippers to R2-D2 to the May Queen dress from Midsommar—so much in fact that we thought it would be helpful to break down what to expect during you visit.

We spent hours at the Academy Museum across two visits just ahead of its official opening, and we’ve come up with eight things that would be helpful to know before your first visit.

You’ll need a reservation to visit.
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

1. You’ll need a reservation to visit.

We’ll start with the real basics: You’ll need a timed ticket to visit, and those run $25 for adults (and admission is free for those 17 and under). Special exhibitions (at opening, that’s the Hayao Miyazaki retrospective) are included in the cost. So far, weekends have tended to book up completely, but weekdays look wide open (including after-work slots on Fridays, when the museum is open until 8pm).

You don’t need a ticket if you just want to pop into the gift shop or explore the lobby’s free Spielberg Family Gallery—but that small space of TVs playing some classic film clips isn’t really worth the trip alone.

Also, just a heads up that you’ll currently be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to your visit.

If you want to hold an Oscar, you need a separate ticket—but it might not be worth it.
Photograph: Courtesy Joshua White, JWPictures/©Academy Museum Foundation

2. If you want to hold an Oscar, you need a separate ticket—but it might not be worth it.

When you’re booking your tickets, you’ll have the option to add on access to the Oscars Experience. Consider this the made-for-Instagram experience at the museum, with reservations available every 15 minutes.

The Oscars Experience lets you step up to a podium with bright lights and a virtual crowd in your face as your accept your award: an unengraved Oscar, identical to the ones given out during the Academy Awards, that you can pick up (but not keep). You’re only inside for a few seconds, and you’ll be emailed a personalized, polished video of your award acceptance.

It’s well put together, but remarkably expensive for just how brief it is; only plunk down the extra $15 if being able to say “I held an Oscar” is a must.

It’ll take a couple of hours to get through, and that’s not just because of movie clips.
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

3. It’ll take a couple of hours to get through, and that’s not just because of movie clips.

The museum’s footprint might not seem massive at first: The core “Stories of Cinema” collection is spread across two floors, with a third mostly dedicated to a special exhibition space. And we suppose that if you only wanted to see the highlights (like E.T., the shark from Jaws and a bunch of other recognizable objects) that you could breeze through the whole thing pretty quickly.

But we spent nearly three hours exploring the galleries during our first visit and still felt like we didn’t soak everything in. The Academy Museum is dense: Props, scripts and photos cover every wall, and you’ll be rewarded with snippets of cinematic history if you stop to read each one. And that’s in addition to all of the video clips looping through the museum: a wraparound montage of sci-fi scenes, selections of Emmanuel Lubezki’s superlative camerawork, memorable moments from Pedro Almodóvar films, a behind-the-scenes video from The Dark Crystal, screen tests, interviews—you get the idea.

But you can watch feature-length movies there every day.
Photograph: Courtesy Iwan Baan/©Iwan Baan Studios, Courtesy Academy Museum Foundation

4. But you can watch feature-length movies there every day.

Well, you’d kind of expect that a movie museum would have a movie theater, right? The Academy Museum actually has two of them: The 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater (that’s inside of the glassy soap bubble-like structure that anchors the instutition), and the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater, which sits on the lower floor.

You’ll typically find one or two screenings downstairs during the day, and then an evening one in the main theater—both typically for $10, with the exception of some special events. The image quality in both theaters is spectacular, with a mix of both film and digital projectors in each.

The collection tells an unflinching, nonlinear story of cinema.
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

5. The collection tells an unflinching, nonlinear story of cinema.

Given that this is a movie museum in L.A., you might expect a certain type of Hollywood-centric narrative: Major studios birthed blockbusters and the best ones were bestowed with Oscars. But that’s absolutely not the case here.

Instead, the Academy Museum’s core exhibition recognizes that there are many stories (plural) that’ve pushed cinema forward, and it’s not shy about the ones that’ve held it back, either. Yes, Citizen Kane and The Wizard of Oz are celebrated as cornerstones, but so too are the martial arts movies of Bruce Lee and the early-20th-century films of Oscar Micheaux, the first Black feature filmmaker. 

It’s also not afraid to call out where the industry (and yes, that includes the Academy) could’ve done better: Tins of Max Factor Pan-Cake makeup confront blackface in the costume and makeup gallery, the Mount Rushmore backdrop from North By Northwest recognizes that it’s set on stolen Lakota land, a hallway of industry challenges acknowledges labor disputes and the Me Too movement, the script section examines the representation of Native voices, and the animation gallery alone confronts minstrelsy, cultural appropriation and the gender pay gap.

There are some nods to L.A. if you know where to look.
Photograph: Courtesy Joshua White, JWPictures/©Academy Museum Foundation

6. There are some nods to L.A. if you know where to look.

All that said, L.A. does have a few locally-focused moments in the museum. One of the first galleries explores the on-site locations of Real Women Have Curves and contrasts the cool tones of its Boyle Heights locations to the warmer ones on the tony Westside. A corner of the second floor features photos of the museum’s main building back when it was the May Company department store, while the lounge near the lower level theater is lined with glitzy black-and-white photos from old premieres at movie palaces around L.A.

Sometimes, too, it’s just a matter of knowing the backstory of a piece in the collection (like a restored shark from Jaws that sat in a junkyard in the Valley for decades) or the very-L.A. film it comes from (the Dude’s robe from The Big Lebowski). 

You’re probably going to blow a bunch of money in the gift shop.
Photograph: Courtesy Matt Petit / ©Academy Museum Foundation

7. You’re probably going to blow a bunch of money in the gift shop.

If you think it’s hard to pass up keepsakes and decor with Frida or Basquiat in a typical museum shop, wait until you walk into one with Totoro on everything. You’re bound to find something in the store you can’t resist, whether it tugs at childhood nostalgia (a ruby slipper bag) or your inner cinephile (Almodóvar espresso maker earrings).

You’ll find entire sections of the store dedicated to The Wizard of Oz and Bruce Lee, plus some merch inspired by the museum itself and the Oscars. There’s a nook of all things Spike Lee, and another with an Amoeba-curated vinyl collection.

At opening, though, it’s all about Studio Ghibli. To mark the Miyazaki retrospective, you’ll find tons of plush, stickers, bags, posters, figurines and shirts inspired by Japanese director’s films (mostly My Neighbor TotoroSpirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service), and even a collection of Modernica chairs.

It’s a museum that knows how to party.
Photograph: Courtesy Iwan Baan/©Iwan Baan Studios, Courtesy Academy Museum Foundation

8. It’s a museum that knows how to party.

The Academy Museum comes from the people who hand out awards for excellence in cinema and put on a glamorous red carpet event, and the museum makes more sense aesthetically when you realize it has both of those personalities baked in.

On the one hand, there’s the archivist, a neat and meticulously assembled vault of movie ephemera that recognizes all-time classics and overlooked greats.

On the other, there’s the party planner: the cavernous lobby turns into a cocktail lounge for special events, the fifth-floor terrace and its adjoining tea room are practically engineered for galas, and there’s a red carpet built right into the walkway to the main theater.

Will knowing this dramatically change your visit? Not really. But it may preemptively answer some of your questions about the building as you stroll through.

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