More Culture:

November 30, 2023

Franklin Institute permanently closes Tuttleman IMAX theater

Opened in 1990, the domed cinema was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum says it's no longer financially viable

Entertainment Theaters
Franklin Institute IMAX Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The Franklin Institute's Tuttleman IMAX theater is now permanently closed.

The Franklin Institute will not reopen its domed Tuttleman IMAX theater, which closed during the pandemic after more than three decades at the Center City museum.

Leaders at the museum said the IMAX theater is no longer "a viable business model" for the Franklin Institute.

"This decision is based on several factors, including the need for a complete replacement of 34-year-old, now obsolete technology and infrastructure," the museum said in a statement.

The Tuttleman was one of Philadelphia's last remaining IMAX theaters. Another, at the former Regal UA Riverview theater in South Philly, closed in November 2020 in part due to industry-wide challenges brought on by the pandemic. The AMC Philadelphia Mills theater still has an IMAX screen. 

Fans of the Tuttleman had been holding out hope that the Franklin Institute would eventually reopen the IMAX theater, but the museum said it is instead focused on investing in six new exhibits. The first — Wondrous Space, an $8.5 million exhibit about rocket technology and space exploration — opened earlier this month.

Other IMAX theaters remain in the surrounding suburbs at Regal UA King Of Prussia, Regal Warrington Crossing, Regal Downingtown and the AMC Cherry Hill 24 theater in South Jersey.

Philadelphia Film Society CEO Andrew Greenblatt lamented that the city is "significantly underserved" both in terms of screens and theaters compared to cities of comparable size.

"The lack of an IMAX in Center City is particularly glaring and disappointing, and we hope that this is just a temporary setback with an IMAX somewhere in Philadelphia’s future," Greenblatt said.

Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, agreed that the loss of IMAX theaters hurts the city's cinema scene. She 

"I would be very unhappy to see Philadelphia, as a great movie city, not have an IMAX theater," Pinkenson said. "It would be a shame to lose it. Since COVID, everything has been challenging in our industry, as it has been in so many others. We hope and expect that all industries will bounce back in newer and better ways." 

When the Franklin Institute opened the Tuttleman theater — formerly called the Omniverse Theater — in 1990, the IMAX format was still largely dedicated to screening nature documentaries at museums. The technology, originally developed in Canada in 1967, carried high costs that often involved retrofitting multiplex theaters to accommodate immersive projection systems and tall, curved screens. In the pre-digital era, it also was much more expensive to produce and distribute IMAX films. 

The Franklin Institute took on considerable debt to invest in the Tuttleman theater and other museum renovations in the 1980s and '90s. The museum expects to complete repayment of that debt in 2026, the Inquirer reported

The Tuttleman long served as a popular field trip destination for schools in the region, inviting kids to view documentaries about Philly's sights and sounds and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among other topics. In more recent years, the Tuttleman had first offerings for hit films like "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "Dunkirk."

Plans for how the Franklin Institute will use the Tuttleman theater space in the future have not been shared.