In celebration of the Oscars, we look at the iconic Griffith Observatory, which has featured in films ranging from Rebel Without a Cause (1955) to cinema’s ultimate love letter to old Hollywood, La La Land (2017).
Not many buildings can claim to be a public observatory, planetarium and exhibition space all rolled into one, but then, The Griffith Observatory is no ordinary building.
Designed by architects John C Austin and Frederic Morse Ashley, this unique hybrid wonder allows unparalleled views of Hollywood, while also capturing the imaginations of stargazers with its awe-inspiring planetarium.
Offering the public some of the most outstanding views in the city, it’s perhaps no surprise it caught the eye of Hollywood producers, who've used it as a backdrop to some of the most famous scenes in cinema.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
The Griffith Observatory plays a big role in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1953), the movie that made #JamesDean a cultural icon. For some 1950s teenage alienation and angst, catch it on a double bill with #FrancisFordCoppola's THE OUTSIDERS (1983) July 6 at the Aero Theatre! pic.twitter.com/JysEz5CU9o— American Cinematheque (@am_cinematheque) June 18, 2018
The Griffith Observatory might not be the Hollywood icon we think of it as today had it not featured in the James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause.
As well as being the first time a planetarium theatre was ever featured in a film, the observatory is the centre stage for the film’s thrilling climax.
Today, the Griffith Observatory is home to a commemorative bust of James Dean, who plays Jim Stark, the titular character.
After seeing Hollywood artist Kenneth Kendall’s sculpture of his hero, Marlon Brando, legend has it that Dean approached Kendall to ask him to create a bust of himself .
Rebel Without a Cause is cool and all, but I think Griffith Observatory should have a memorial to Bill Paxton’s punk character from Terminator. pic.twitter.com/oIKhEWnNXw— Gerrit Thompson (@gerrit_SF) January 9, 2019
Kendall began work on the statue on the night of Dean’s tragic death. You can now find it on the west side of the observatory lawn, where it's seen by millions of visitors each year.
The Terminator (1984)
#OTD James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) had its US release. The first film in the series in which Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a cyborg sent from the future to assassinate Sarah Connor to prevent her unborn son from becoming the leader of a rebellion against the machines. pic.twitter.com/EuVTBPAYOl— Tico Romao (@Tico_Romao) October 26, 2021
Proving itself to be a filming location ideal for all genres of cinema, the Griffith Observatory is one of the focal locations for the post-apocalyptic, sci-fi smash, The Terminator.
We first find Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator scouring the observatory for clothes as he gets ready to hunt for his victim, Sarah Connor.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the world's largest ‘public observatories’ – opening up the world of science and space to everyone.
With its incredible live shows and out-of-this-world exhibitions, we can see why director James Cameron thought it the perfect setting for T800’s grand introduction.
La La Land (2017)
Damien Chazelle’s dazzling tale of ambition and romance is almost as much of a tribute to the Griffith Observatory as it is to classic cinema, with it featuring one of the movie’s most memorable scenes.
Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia come together as they explore the observatory, culminating in their waltz among the stars in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium.
the beauty that is the planetarium scene in la la land pic.twitter.com/2L0MjiTQeG— aidan (@MACMlLLR) October 23, 2020
The scene brings many of La La Land’s significant themes to life, including the world of dreams and fantasy, with the Griffith Observatory providing the perfect centrepiece for the scene.
Although architects and engineers first built the observatory in 1933, in 2002, S.J. Amoroso construction worked on its renovation, with the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering managing the project.
So, in part, La La Land’s magic is made possible because of the real-life magic of civil engineers!
The Griffith Observatory is in Griffith Park, a 4,210-acre outdoor space that combines manicured lawns and picnic spots with rugged areas of natural beauty and hiking trails.
Mia and Sebastian’s six-minute-long song and dance number, A Lovely Night, and the couple’s bittersweet exchange towards the end of the movie also feature Griffith Park as its backdrop.
A generous donation
Colonel Griffith J Griffith’s generosity made the observatory possible.
He donated 3,015 acres of land that surrounded the observatory to the city of Los Angeles and left money in his will for the Griffith Observatory, exhibit hall and planetarium to be built.
Griffith’s vision was to make astronomy accessible to the public.
Given that film is a medium that reaches millions of people globally, it seems fitting that the observatory continues to provide a ‘gateway to the cosmos’ through its appearances on the big screen.
Beyond the silver screen
Beyond its association with the big screen, there are lots of other reasons to visit the Griffith Observatory.
It boasts some of the most fabulous views in LA and provides the best vantage spot to view the famous Hollywood sign.
Over eight million people have already looked through the Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope – that’s more than any other telescope on earth.
Everyone is free to use the public telescope on clear nights.
Inside the observatory, you can even find a tribute to civil engineers.
What's your favourite civil engineering project that you've spotted in movies or TV? Let us know your favourites.