Seeing Stars: Hollywood Museums..  

6767 Hollywood Boulevard,
Hollywood, CA. / (323) 462-5991 or (323) 462-8860

wax figures of Robert Downey Jr., Angelina Jolie, Jude Law and Christian BaleThe last time I visited the Hollywood Wax Museum, over a decade ago, I wrote a rather scathing review of the place (you can see a copy of that old review here).  And it deserved it.

Madame Tussaud's opened their new museum nearby a few years back, and I honestly didn't think that the Hollywood Wax Museum would survive for very long after that.  But it did (no doubt, in part, because its admission price is significantly lower than Tussaud's).

I recently received an email from someone at the museum, telling me that they had made significant improvements, and asking me to take another look. I turned down their offer of free tickets (I like to pay my own way when I'm writing reviews), but I felt that out of fairness, I owed them a second visit -- so off I went.

I bought a combo ticket (which included a admission to the Guinness museum across the street, for roughly the same price), and went in.

I must say, I was favorably impressed by the exhibits I first encountered. 

Since my last visit, they have borrowed a page or two from Madame Tussaud's, and have removed the barriers that used to separate the visitor from the wax figures.  The lighting on the figures also seems better than before.

In the first rooms,  they have grouped a number of recent figures into a scene reminiscent of a movie premiere (or cocktail party), where guests can easily stand next to (and pose for photos with) the figures.

On one side of the room stand Robert Downey Jr., Angelina Jolie, Jude Law and Christian Bale.  On the other side are the (somewhat less-impressive) figures of Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson.

Angelina's wax figure is quite good, as is Robert Downey's - almost on a par with Tussaud's figures.  The nearby "Pirates of the Caribbean" scene is also well-done, with a good pirate ship setting, and a respectable Johnny Depp (as "Captain Sparrow").

But on the other hand, the Tom Cruise figure is dreadful, with an exaggerated nose and flattened head that gives him a distinctly neanderthal look.  The other figures in this room vary in quality, but are generally pretty good (even though Hugh Jackman's arms-akimbo pose looks awkward).

[Click on the photos to see larger versions]

Angelina JolieRobert Downey Jr.Johnny Depp

However, as you move deeper into the museum, two things happen.  One, the rooms become smaller and dimmer, and begin to form a maze of twisting hallways, somewhat reminiscent of a carnival sideshow attraction -- compared to the bright, spacious rooms at Tussaud's.  Second, the quality of the wax figures declines - for the most part.

Alas, there are still some genuinely terrible figures to be found here.

I don't think I would have even recognized the atrocious wax figure of Lucille Ball, had she not been placed in her famous "Vitametavegiman" scene from "I Love Lucy".

Tom CruiseLucille BallJim Carrey

And the figure of Jim Carrey (posed as "The Cable Guy") is genuinely dreadful.  As are those of Barbara Eden (seen as "Jeannie", squatting almost out of sight, with exaggerated breasts on display in a low-cut costume), Will Ferrell (in "Talladega Nights"), Tobey MaGuire (from "Seabiscuit"), and Shia LaBouf (from "Transformers").

Pierce Brosnan's figure is a pretty good resemblance -- but he doesn't seem to have a neck...

In fact, trying to figure out exactly who you are looking at can often be a challenge here.  Fortunately, they place the names of the figures on display cards, to one side.  I found myself photographing the cards (as well as the figures), just so I could be sure who was who, once I left the museum.

On the other hand, the figures of Elvis, Daniel Craig and Arnold Schwarzenegger are rather good.

Most of the other figures fall somewhere in between.  They are OK, just nothing to write home about...

I find that many of the figures here lack the kind of lifelike twinkle in the eye that the Tussaud characters possess.   While Tussaud's figures look breaktakingly human at times, most of these figures more closely resemble well-made, look-alike mannequins.

A practical problem here (from the standpoint of a visitor trying to shoot photos) is that the lighting is low in many of the displays.  Why does that matter?  Because, when you take a photo in dim light, it forces you to use flash.  And trust me, flash is not a friend of wax figures.

As long as the figure is dramatically lit for the scene by the museum's stage lighting, they usually look fairly realistic.  But substitute the harsh, flat lighting of an electronic flash, and what appeared to be a lifelike figure is suddenly revealed as obviously fake.

This is true at Tussaud's, too, to a lesser extent.  But at Tussaud's, the room lighting is bright enough that I could hand-hold all of my photos, and thus capture the figures in the same stage lighting they were meant to be seen in.  But here at the Hollywood Wax Museum, the low lighting often made that impossible, so I was sometimes forced to use flash, and wound up with some unflattering shots of the figures as a result. And quite a few of my hand-held shots turned out to be a bit blurry, due to the dim lighting.

Here is an good example of how flash affects wax figures: the "Men in Black" (Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones), first as shot in the museum's original lighting, and then with the camera's flash on:

without flash   with flash
Without flash                                                                With flash

See what I mean?  Take my advice, and hand-hold the shots whenever possible.  (Today's digital cameras allow you to see the result immediately, so if you don't like the hand-held result, you can always resort to using flash for a second shot.)

So, would I recommend that visitors see the Hollywood Wax Museum or Madame Tussaud's?

There is no doubt that the figures at Tussaud's are much better.  (Simply compare the Hollywood Wax version of Jim Carry with the Tussaud's version...)

But then again, Tussaud's charges $25 admission, compared to the $16 here.  That is a significant difference, especially for those on a budget.

So, I suppose that it boils down to why you want to go to a wax museum in the first place.

If you want see lifelike reproductions of your favorite stars, to admire the art and sheer realism of the figures, and to get photos with the wax celebs that will almost fool your friends into believing you're standing next to the actual star, then there's no question that Tussaud's should be your choice.

But on the other hand, if you are visiting the Boulevard as an uncritical tourist, and just want to stumble into a wax museum with your friends for a little kitschy fun, to pose with a few decent figures, and perhaps poke fun at those don't look much like the real thing... then sure, save some money, and just go here.

The bottom line? This museum has significantly improved since my last visit, but it's still not that great.  It will almost certainly never match Tussaud's in quality - but at least they seem to be putting more effort into it.

(One last word of caution: Don't bother going to the Guinness Museum across the street.  I got free admission to it included with my Wax Museum ticket, and I still found it a huge waste of time.  I pity any poor soul who actually pays the full admission price for that place.)

Parking: There is a large underground garage beneath the giant Hollywood & Highland complex next door, but be sure to get your parking ticket validated to limit the damage to your wallet.

Admission Price:

    Adults (13-64) :  $15.95
    Seniors (65+) :   $13.95 
    Children (6-12) : $  8.95
    (Children under age 5 are free.)

(Discounted tickets are available online , including combination tickets to the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Guinness Museum and/or Ripley's Museum (both are right across the street).

Hours: Open every day of the year, from 10 AM to midnight weekdays, 10 AM to 1 AM on weekends).

 Getting there: The Hollywood Wax Museum is located a block and a half east of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Highland Avenue, and across the street from the Guinness museum.

From Hollywood & Vine, go west on Hollywood Boulevard (about three quarters of a mile), and the museum will be on your right (north) side.

[For more information on this subject, you can access the Wax Museum's official website at:]

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