The BFI IMAX is a small but immersive cinema that has the largest screen in the UK, at an impressive 20 metres by 26 metres, as well as a 12,000-Watt digital surround system.
- Watch a film at the BFI IMAX – that’s all you need to do to be amazed
- Enjoy a leisurely drink at the licensed bar before or after a screening; there are often film-themed cocktails on offer
- Take in the stunning views over Waterloo Bridge while you savour an ice cream in the cafe
What to see and do
Don your 3D glasses and watch a classic
The IMAX cinema offers 3D films and so by wearing a pair of special glasses, you can experience the full effect. The IMAX still shows all its older classics such as the Space Station 3D film from 2002, or you can watch a more recent movie such as 1917.
Hire out one of the internal spaces for a private function
The ground floor can accommodate 450 people, or 200 seated for a dinner, while the first floor can accommodate 320 people standing.
Marvel at the architecture of the IMAX building itself
Architect Bryan Avery (1944-2017) designed the cinema building and transformed a neglected area into a multiple award-winning hub of creativity which attracts more than 350,000 visitors each year.
Did you know? (5 interesting facts)
- Just to get an idea of how big the IMAX screen is, its height of 20 metres is almost the same height of five double decker buses stacked on top of each other.
- The cinema has an underground train line just four metres below it, but the architect team designed the structure so it rests on anti-vibration bearings so that there’s no transmission of vibration or noise.
- More than 350,000 people visit the IMAX cinema each year and they eat more than 30,000kg of popcorn, 10,000 portions of hot dogs and nachos, as well as slurping down more than 7,000 litres of soft drinks.
- The Waterloo IMAX is well-known for its all-nighter screenings of popular film series, such as the Dark Night Trilogy and Lord of the Rings.
- The new IMAX screen, which replaced the original one in August 2012, was made in Canada and it took ten riggers to pull up the 800kg of vinyl to its full 20 metres of height. Once in place, it took around 48 hours for all of the creases to straighten out of the new screen.
- 1983: The site of the IMAX cinema was a small shanty town known as Cardboard City, which had as many as 200 homeless people living under the pedestrian underpasses of the Bullring.
- 1998: Cardboard City was closed down by the authorities to make way for the £20million IMAX development, which took just a year to complete.
- 1999: The cinema opened in May of this year and an estimated 500,000 people visited to see the 3D films on offer.
- 2000: The cinema won several awards in 1999 and 2000, including the Design Council Millennium Product Award (1999) and a Civic Trust Award in 2000.
- 2006: The IMAX cinema caused some controversy when Ocean advertising started to use the exterior of the building as an ad canvas. This was initially frowned upon, but now the 48,000 LED array has become one of the best known – and the largest – advertising displays in Europe.
- 2012: The older screen was replaced and a new digital IMAX projector joined the existing 70mm projector. In the same year, the BFI announced that Odeon Cinemas was to operate the IMAX for at least the next five years. This move offered customers more flexibility and a wider choice of films, although the BFI still maintains control over the film schedule and the technological side of things.
Facilities and accessibility
The IMAX has an audio description and screen hearing enhancement system. Visitors can pick up their equipment from the ticket counter or from any member of staff in the foyer.
The cinema has a British Sign Language-trained member of staff, so call ahead to arrange this service. There are also several subtitled screenings each week.
The screen has step-free access and assistance dogs are welcome throughout the building and auditorium. There are water bowls available for assistance dogs, but no toileting areas in the immediate area.
There are accessible toilets on the ground and fourth floors. The ground floor toilet needs a Radar key.
Autism-friendly screenings are not available at the BFI IMAX.
The IMAX cinema has a branch of Costa Coffee so that patrons can buy hot and cold drinks as well as light snacks before and after screenings. There’s also a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream outlet for colder treats.
The nearest tube station is Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo and Jubilee lines), which is two or three minutes’ walk from the IMAX.