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May Queen dress from Midsommar
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

The 11 coolest things on display at the Academy Museum for movie lovers

From E.T. to the May Queen dress from Midsommar, these objects at L.A.’s new movie museum are must-sees.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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The long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures should have both film buffs and casual movie watchers swiping open their phone app in nearly every gallery. For seemingly every spectacle piece in the Los Angeles museum (the only surviving balsa wood Rosebud sled from Citizen Kane), there’s another that should hook cinephiles (the script and lenses used on the Orson Welles film).     

We combed through the museum’s stellar collection, from the highly recognizable (a remote-controlled RD-D2, Jack Skellington’s clay head) to the slightly more bizarre (a half-human, half-Terminator animatronic Arnold Schwarzenegger head from T2, Leonardo DiCaprio’s mauled belly from The Revenant) to find some standout props, costumes, sets and behind-the-scenes ephemera that should please both camps.

Here are 11 things movie lovers absolutely need to see when the Academy Museum opens its doors on September 30 (and one that you might even be able to spot from the street right now).

E.T. at the Academy Museum
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

E.T. Like, the actual E.T.

Have you watched E.T. lately? Expect to well up and believe in the wonder and magic of the movies during the entire third act —and maybe when you glimpse this full-body animatronic, one of only three such ones created for the Steven Spielberg film. Even standing still behind glass, the figure created by Carlo Rambaldi, referred to as the Geppetto of the production, looks remarkably endearing (just don’t even think about breaking him out and stashing him in a bike basket).

Dorothy's ruby slippers
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Dorothy’s ruby slippers

You might’ve seen a pair of these at the Smithsonian, but among the untold number of ruby slippers made for The Wizard of Oz, the Academy Museum believes that this is the pair, the one used in close-ups and for the iconic heel clicks. The sparkly shoes anchor a gallery dedicated to every aspect of the 1939 film, including the Cowardly Lion’s mane and makeup tests for the Scarecrow (and some not-so-magic elements, like wall text for a Munchkin costume that speaks to the actors’ mistreatment).

Mount Rushmore backdrop from North by Northwest
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

The Mount Rushmore backdrop from North by Northwest

The Academy Museum’s collection features a couple of painted backdrops, but only one of them requires a two-story gallery in order to properly display it: the Mount Rushmore backdrop from the climax of North by Northwest. Culver City’s J.C. Backings donated the massive painting, and took about 20 people to move and unfurl the backdrop. The piece pulls most of the focus of the gallery, but you’ll also find some making-of photos and interviews, plus the real-life context of the site’s history as sacred Lakota land that was desecrated and blasted into a presidential monument.

Laura Dern's Blue Velvet notes
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Laura Dern’s Blue Velvet notes

A script is really just a typewritten page of dialogue, so being blown away by the museum’s original manuscripts for The Maltese FalconPsycho and Chinatown relies on reverence for the source material. But even if you’ve never seen Blue Velvet, Laura Dern’s extensive handwritten notes provide a clear window into just how much the actor brings to David Lynch’s screenplay: Her three hues of pen marks add in commentary, extra dialogue and note character context. Elsewhere in the museum, honorable mention goes to Gregory Peck’s terse, barely legible notations for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Bruce from Jaws
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Bruce (better known as the shark from Jaws)

All three of the latex and rubber sharks used in Jaws eventually rotted. But there was one more 25-foot model cast from the original mold in fiberglass: It was sent to Universal Studios Hollywood in ’75 for some photo ops before winding up in a junkyard in the Valley for decades. Now, after some extensive restoration work, it’s suspended 30 feet above the third-floor escalators at the Academy Museum (and big enough that you can spot him while walking along Fairfax).

Bambi, Academy Museum
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Animated pencil drawings from Bambi

As you scan through storyboards of the “married life” sequence from Up with An American Tale’s “Somewhere Out There” squeaking in the background, it might feel like the animation gallery is out to emotionally wreck you. This devastatingly adorable addition certainly doesn’t help: a few pencil drawings of Thumper helping a wobbly Bambi stand upright on ice, which have been paired with a recreated pencil animation that plays side by side with the final film.

Casting photos
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Some surprisingly honest casting photos and notes

Next to a reel of auditions and screen tests (think: Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry), you’ll find a remarkable, decades-spanning collection of Polaroids from casting director Marion Dougherty, including very young portraits of John Malkovich (with hair!), Ving Rhames (with hair!) and Salma Hayek (…of course with hair).

Sure, old photos of celebs are just a Google search away, but you can’t say the same for the index cards of handwritten casting notes right next to them. Al Pacino would be “excellent as [a] flipped out punk” and a “darling” teenage Marlon Wayans will “be a star, I’m sure.” Some notes offer unexpectedly direct superficial comments: a 40-something Rita Moreno “looks fantastic, about 25 from where I sat,” and a 14-year-old Scarlett Johansson is called “pretty but not plastic.”

Speaking of the casting process, make sure to spot the nearby film still of Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future, before he was replaced by Michael J. Fox.

Spike Lee's poster collection
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Spike Lee’s autographed poster collection

Maybe you have some cool movie posters hanging in your home, but do you have Breathless signed by Jean-Luc Godard? A Star Wars theatrical poster with a personal dedication from George Lucas? Or a Jurassic Park one that says, “For Spike, Roarrrrr! Steven Spielberg?” Well Spike Lee sure does. The director’s poster collection stands out in this gallery of his artistic influences and connections—and that’s a tall task in a room that includes a love symbol-shaped guitar gifted to him by Prince.

Cobblepot Manor from Batman
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Batman mattes and miniatures

Before Batman became locked in a loop of gritty reboots, there was Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader. The Burton era (and even its shaky pre-Christopher Nolan follow-ups) made extensive use of deco-gothic analog sets, including a beautiful matte painting of the Batcave on display, as well as a miniature of Cobblepot Manor, the Penguin’s hideout (you’ll also find Danny DeVito’s prosthetic beak nose across from it). 

May Queen dress from Midsommar
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

The May Queen coronation gown from Midsommar

Even if you’ve never seen Ari Aster’s grisly (and, uh grizzly) Scandinavian cult flick, this floral dress is still a knockout. In a room that also boasts the Dude’s robe and Maximus’ armor, those 10,000 silk flowers steal the show. They also happen to be one of the museum’s most recent acquisitions: The Academy picked it up for a mere $65,000 in an A24 charity auction last year. 

Hayao Miyazaki, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Photograph: Courtesy Joshua White, JW Pictures/©Academy Museum FoundationHayao Miyazaki, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Just about everything in the Hayao Miyazaki exhibition

Outside of a few provided images, we can’t actually show you any installation images from the Miyazaki retrospective (the no-photo policy is a direct order from the Studio Ghibli director himself, or at least that’s what the employee working the door told us to make us feel better).

So you’ll just have to believe us: This temporary exhibition is teeming with wonderful objects, including an adorable diorama of Satsuki and Mei’s house from My Neighbor Totoro and a physical cross-section of the mine in Castle in the Sky, as well as sublime paintings, particularly of Miyazki’s forest creations. Our favorite, though, is found at the exit: a very sweet recreation of the clock tower and tunnel, with paintings of light spilling in, the sound of footsteps overhead and a stone spirit guarding the door.

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