Seeing Stars: Where the Stars Meet the Public

Star Will Smith greets his fans as he arrives at the Village
Theatre for the Westwood premiere of "Men in Black 2"
(photo courtesy of Pierre Bernard)

New movies open every week in Hollywood, of course, but often the big studios decide to pull out all the stops and throw an old-fashioned, full-blown Hollywood premiere (sometimes called "special screenings").

High-intensity searchlights criss-cross the night sky. Movie stars arrive in stretch limousines in front of the theatre, to the applause of an adoring crowd. TV reporters interview stars, while photographers shoot photos of the celebrities on the red carpet, before they go inside to watch the film... It's quite a sight. And a quintessential Hollywood experience.

Most of these special movie premieres take place along Hollywood Boulevard or in Westwood Village. And you can be there for the next big event. Read on, and I'll tell you how.

In Westwood, the two favorite spots for big Hollywood premieres are The Village Theatre and the Bruin theatre. On Hollywood Boulevard, the two favorite locales are Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the El Capitan theatre. The third choice is the Cinerama Dome (near Sunset & Vine), and you'll occasionally see a premiere pop up at the popular Universal CityWalk or The Grove.

 Click here for a list of the theatres that most frequently host major premieres, and the movies that have recently premiered at those theatres.

Not only do the stars of the movie turn out in person for these premieres, but a host of other Hollywood celebs also usually show up - either in support of their friends or as a favor for the studio that made the picture (or because their agent wants them to be seen in the spotlight.) These glittering premieres provide a rare chance to see numerous stars in person at a single event.

During these major Hollywood screenings, the public is free to stand outside the theatre and watch all the hoopla around the arrival of the stars. Most of the celebs will stop and say a few words to the crowd before they walk up the red carpet and go inside to see the film. The police usually rope off the area with makeshift barricades for crowd control, so you may be forced to watch from across the street. But if you get there early, you should still have a good view of the activities. (They even erect bleachers for some of the bigger premieres.) The experience can be a bit exhausting, but if you're dazzled by stars or just want to experience an authentic Hollywood event, it's definitely worth the effort.

Premieres they take place on a fairly regular basis, and chances are that there will be one or more major movie premieres in any given month (especially during the big Christmas and summer movie seasons). In today's market, most films from the major studios have premieres, and at least 80% of those premieres are held in L.A.

Alas, it's not that easy to find out in advance when these world premieres are going to happen. Neither the usually-reliable Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hotline nor the Hollywood Visitors Bureau gives out this information.

 So, to fill the gap, I have created my own Calendar of upcoming premieres (and other Hollywood events) which you can see here by clicking here. It lists arrival times, dates, stars and locations.

Frequently Asked Questions

I often get asked how one can get tickets to these premieres. The answer is, you can't. Generally speaking, the public can't get tickets to movie premieres. But the good news is that you really don't need them.

The seats inside the theatres during premieres are reserved for the stars, the filmmakers, their friends and family and whoever they choose to invite. The rest of us mere mortals usually have to settle for standing outside, watching the stars as they arrive in their limos, say a few words, wave, and walk the red carpet into the theatre. But that can actually be a lot of fun, and it doesn't require tickets. (And actually, you probably have a better view of the stars in the bright lights outside than you would if you were inside the dim theatre.)

(They occasionally have charity premieres, where they will sell tickets to raise money for a cause, or radio promotions where DJs give away tickets as part of a contest, but those are rare.)

Until very recently, it was unusual to see a star leave the red carpet area and go out to the crowd (which is often across the street). However, this has changed. I've seen Will Smith, Vin Diesel, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez (among others) all go out to meet the crowds at premieres, shake hands, and occasionally sign autographs. But even when this happens, the star is only able to make contact with a small number of fans. Short of wearing something attention-getting or yelling out their name, there's not much one can do to get the celebrity to come to you. Generally, if they do go out to the crowd, they just walk quickly past, shaking as many hands as they can like a politician on the stump (usually reaching only the people in the front row or two), and perhaps stopping to sign an autograph. Keep your expectations low. Come out to see them, not to touch them, and you won't be disappointed.

Some large premieres have bleachers for fans to sit in. Most do not. Most of the time you just have to stand (behind police barricades), and since you need to arrive early in order to get a front row location, that means a lot of standing and waiting. It can be boring, and if you don't wear comfortable shoes, painful. If you go, bring something to read or snack on while you wait, to help pass the time. Be sure to dress warmly if the premiere is scheduled after dark (especially during the winter); wear comfortable shoes, and arrive in plenty of time to get a good spot at the front of the crowd. Be prepared for a wait, and have some fun with it.

People also ask me how early one must show up to get a good viewing spot. Unfortunately, that's almost impossible to answer. It depends upon the premiere and the stars of the movie. The general rule is that the bigger the movie and the bigger the stars, the bigger the crowd. With minor films, one can often walk up during the premiere and still get a good viewing spot. For most films, arriving an hour or two early will do the trick. But when it comes to monster premieres like "Star Wars" or "Harry Potter", some fans camp out for days. It pays to come by early and check out the scene. See whether or not there are bleachers and whether or not a crowd is already gathering... Both Westwood Village and Hollywood Blvd offer plenty to do in terms of shopping and restaurants, so if you come too early, you can always kill some time at a spot like Hollywood & Highland.

Location plays a role in how crowded the premiere might be. Grauman's and the El Capitan are located in the heart of the Hollywood tourist district, with lots of foot traffic on the boulevard that can quickly swell the size of the waiting crowd (especially in Summer). On the other hand, the Cinerama Dome is a bit farther off the beaten path, so crowds there tend to be lighter.

Most premieres take place at one of three places: Grauman's Chinese (in Hollywood), The Village Theatre (in Westwood) or the Arclight/Cinerama Dome (at Sunset & Vine). The exceptions are films made by Disney, which usually premiere at the El Capitan theatre (across from Grauman's).

Occasionally, Universal will premiere one of their films up at their Universal CityWalk. And you'll find a handful of premieres scheduled for The Director's Guild or the Academy HQ, but those are exceptions. A new player on the block is L.A. Live in downtown L.A., which has begun hosting occasional premieres, including those of the Twilight & Hunger Games franchises.

People also ask me when a particular movie will have its future premiere.

I've found that most premieres take place just a few days before the movie's general release date. And premieres are usually held on weekdays, not weekends (except for childrens' films), and are usually held in the evening (around 5 or 6 PM) rather than in the daytime. There are exceptions, but that's the general rule.

While most premieres take place in Los Angeles, that's not always the case. Some are held in New York. And sometimes a studio will opt for an unusual location (such as Hawaii for "Pearl Harbor" or Atlanta for "Gone With The Wind"). And some movies don't have premieres at all (especially if the producers are trying to hide a weak film from movie critics until after its release).

When I do find out about an upcoming premiere, I post it immediately on my Calendar of Events, at So there's no need to write and ask - if you'll keep an eye on that page, you'll know about it as soon as I do.


The tradition of grand Hollywood premieres was pioneered by master showman Sid Grauman. The very first gala premiere took place in 1922 with the grand opening of Grauman's Egyptian Theatre and the spectacular premiere of "Robin Hood," a silent screen version starring Douglas Fairbanks.

That first premiere at the Egyptian featured all the bright lights and hoopla which we've now come to associate with movie premieres - and the basic form has been repeated ever since. (Five years later, in 1927, Grauman topped himself by opening his new Chinese Theatre with the star-studded premiere of DeMille's "King of Kings.")

Over the years, Hollywood premieres grew more and more elaborate.

When "The Wizard of Oz" premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1939, over ten thousand spectators showed up to greet Judy Garland, the entire Oz cast, and other M-G-M stars. The studio even recreated the Yellow Brick Road and a small cornfield in the famous Grauman's courtyard, and populated it with a scarecrow and several Munchkins in full costume.

Three years later, in 1942, fear of enemy attack during World War II led to all Hollywood premieres (and their bright lights) being banned for the duration. The last pre-war premiere was held on August 19, 1942, for "Pride of the Yankees" at the Pantages Theatre, and was attended by (among others) Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Jack Benny, Mickey Rooney, Ava Gardner, Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Victor Mature, Hedy Lamarr, Irene Dunne, Dorothy Lamour and Sam Goldwyn.

But once the war was over, the Hollywood premieres resumed. And many of the modern movie premieres are still exciting events. Occasionally, there's still a jolt of Hollywood public excess.

For the 2013 premiere of Disney's "Frozen", for instance, at the El Capitan Theatre they had a snow-coated white carpet, a castle covered in snow, and an ice sculpture of the snowman 'Olaf', plus costumed characters from the movie.  And the 2015 premiere of "The Longest Ride" featured live bull-riders actually riding live bulls, right in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Click here for a list of the theatres that most frequently host major premieres, including their
addresses, phone numbers, and the movies that have recently premiered at those theaters.

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