BFI IMAX celebrates 25th anniversary by screening Top 10 films of all time

BFI IMAX, officially opened by King Charles III (then the Prince of Wales) on 11 June 1999, is set to mark its 25th anniversary as the UK’s largest screen with a summer programme that celebrates the venue’s ten highestgrossing films of all time, including two of the most successful releases in cinematic history – James Cameron’s AVATAR (2009) and AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (2022).

Plus, five of blockbuster auteur Christopher Nolan’s films, best seen on IMAX screensThe highest-grossing film in BFI IMAX history, as well as the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, AVATAR played to an average 99% occupancy upon its release in December 2009. Four months earlier, 500 lucky film-lovers were the first in the world to be transported to the planet of Pandora when sixteen minutes of footage was introduced by James Cameron via video on 21 August 2009

The top ten highest-grossing films of all time at BFI IMAX are:

  1. AVATAR (James Cameron, 2009) 

  1. OPPENHEIMER (Christopher Nolan, 2023) 

  1. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrams, 2015) 

  1. THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan, 2008) 

  1. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Christopher Nolan, 2012) 

  1. DUNE: PART 2 (Denis Villeneuve, 2024) 

  1. DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan, 2017) 

  1. AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (James Cameron, 2022) 

  1. THE POLAR EXPRESS (Robert Zemeckis, 2004) 

  1. INTERSTELLAR (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

The BFI IMAX anniversary celebration wouldn’t be complete without a number of Christopher Nolan titles, and five of his blockbusters rank among the venue’s best-selling releases: THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)INTERSTELLAR (2014), DUNKIRK (2017) and OPPENHEIMER (2023), all of which will screen throughout the mini-season on 70MM IMAX. BFI IMAX remains the number one screen in the UK for OPPENHEIMER and the number two IMAX screen globally, having attracted more than 90,000 film fans to BFI IMAX since opening in July 2023 – with audiences travelling from across Europe, the USA and further afield to experience Nolan’s magnum opus in glorious 70MM IMAX, as it was meant to be seen. 

MeanwhileSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrams, 2015) will be making very rare return to the BFI IMAX screen to celebrate its status as the venue’s third highestgrossing title. This seventh entry in the legendary Star Wars saga took audiences back to the ‘Galaxy Far, Far Away’ in 2015 for the first time in more than a decade. Elsewhere, the first full-length feature to be remastered in 3D for IMAX, Robert Zemeckis’ CGI spectacular THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004) will also play on the UK’s largest screen to mark its place ithe BFI IMAX list of all-timers having become a firm fixture of the annual Christmas programme. Finally, DUNE: PART TWO (2024) has already managed to cement its status as one of the most popular adaptations of all time – and one of BFI IMAX’s most successful titles – with the Waterloo venue remaining the only place in Europe to see Denis Villeneuve’s epic on 70MM IMAX.

BFI IMAX before construction (L), during construction (middle) and after completion (R) in 1999

A highpoint of Waterloo’s urban regeneration twenty-five years ago, through early 1999 commuters witnessed the 100-foot glass and steel drum of BFI IMAX rise above the labyrinth of passageways connecting the cultural institutions on London’s South Bank, including BFI Southbank (then the National Film Theatre), with Waterloo’s transport hub. Designed by Bryan Avery of Avery Associates Architects and completed in May, the now iconic structure was officially opened by King Charles III (then the Prince of Wales) on 11 June 1999. Local school children were invited to attend the event where they enjoyed the premiere of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (Aleksandr Petrov, 1999), a Russian oil-on-glass animation which was later named best animated short at the 2000 Academy Awards®.

Early programming at BFI IMAX was dominated by immersive, short-form nature and science documentaries before a technological breakthrough at the turn of the millennium made it possible to convert 35mm film into the 70mm prints needed for IMAX projectors. In November 2003, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (The Wachowskis, 2003) would become the first live action Hollywood blockbuster to debut on IMAX screens on the same day as in traditional cinemas – a strategy that would revolutionise the way that blockbusters were seen.

Other highlights from BFI IMAX’s first quarter century have included British climber Leo Houlding abseiling his way down the building in a tuxedo to attend the premiere of mountaineering documentary THE WILDEST DREAM (Anthony Geffen, 2010), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Christopher Nolan, 2012) crossing the £1million mark in presales a mere two days before its release, Tom Cruise conducting a photoshoot on the roof of BFI IMAX at the UK premiere of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (Christopher McQuarrie, 2015) and his return to the venue in August 2020 in an effort to encourage audiences back to cinemas by attending a pandemic-era screening of TENET (Christopher Nolan, 2020).

Still reigning supreme as the UK’s largest screen after twenty-five yearsthe iconic Waterloo destination relaunched in November 2022 with wide-ranging enhancements including a new 4K IMAX with Laser projection system, immersive 12-channel sound technology, plush new seats, and a brand new 65-foot-high IMAX screen. During the refurbishment, BFI IMAX retained both print projectors: the IMAX GT Projector 15/70mm and a Century Projector that can screen 35mm/70mm. This followed the BFI resuming the day-to-day running and programming of the landmark venue in July 2022. 

Welcoming an average of 300,000 visitors every year, the venue also plays host to some of the world’s biggest film premieres including MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, THE BATMAN, THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES, THE FALL GUY and FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA. Talent who have attended screenings and premieres at BFI IMAX include Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Angelina Jolie, Barry Keoghan, Salma Hayek, Robert Pattinson, Zoe KravitzMargot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Paul Rudd, Idris Elba, Cynthia Erivo, Alfonso Cuaron, Gaspar Noé, Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Rachel Zegler, Lashana Lynch, Cillian Murphy, Christopher Nolan, Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Prince William to name a few, with some visiting BFI IMAX merely to catch a new release on the UK’s largest screen.   

Tickets for the BFI IMAX 25th anniversary programme are on sale now to BFI Patrons, and will be on sale to BFI Members at 12:00 on 21 May and to the general public at 12:00 on 23 May. Tickets are available here.

BFI IMAX Programme Listings:

DUNE: PART TWO (Denis Villeneuve, 2024) 

The only place in Europe to see a 70mm IMAX print screening of Denis Villeneuve’s conclusion to his epic sci-fi saga, adapted from Frank Herbert’s spellbinding novel. 

SUN 9 JUN 20:00

THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan, 2008) 

See Academy Award-winning Heath Ledger’s most memorable performance in stunning IMAX 70mm, as the Caped Crusader faces The Joker. 

SAT 15 JUN 20:30

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Christopher Nolan, 2012) 

Christian Bale returns for the last part of the Dark Knight trilogy to save Gotham City from the clutches of Bane in IMAX 70mm. 

SAT 22 JUN 20:30

THE POLAR EXPRESS 3D (Robert Zemeckis, 2004) 

With six months until Christmas, enjoy an unusually timed screening of Robert Zemeckis’s Christmas classic in IMAX 3D. 

SUN 23 JUN 13:30

AVATAR 3D (James Cameron, 2009) 

Our top-selling film of all time, experience James Cameron’s visionary sci-fi again on the UK’s biggest screen. 

SUN 23 JUN 16:00

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER 3D (James Cameron, 2022) 

Oscar, BAFTA and Critics’ Choice-winner for Best Visual Effects, experience James Cameron’s Avatar sequel in IMAX 3D. 

SUN 23 JUN 19:30

DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan, 2017) 

Christopher Nolan’s spectacular Second World War action epic set around the miraculous Dunkirk evacuation in IMAX 70mm. 

SUN 30 JUN 12:15


The return of one of cinema’s most legendary franchises, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens took us back to the Galaxy Far, Far Away for the first time in a decade. 

SAT 6 JUL 11:00

INTERSTELLAR (Christopher Nolan, 2014) 

Follow Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway beyond our galaxy in this futuristic sci fi epic, screening in IMAX 70mm. 

WED 10 JUL 20:00

OPPENHEIMER (Christopher Nolan, 2023) 

See Christopher Nolan’s Best Picture Oscar and BAFTA-winning film in IMAX 70mm, as it was made to be seen. 

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