The Grand Rex: The Mythical Parisian Movie Palace Goes Beyond Cinema

Originally Published in Boxoffice Pro France. Translated by Vassiliki Malouchou.

The Grand Rex was born with Jacques Haïk, a pioneer of French cinema and one of its most important producers and distributors of the era. After 20 months of construction, on December 8th 1932, the Grand Rex was inaugurated in the second arrondissement of Paris. Inspired by New York’s Radio City Music Hall and the American concept of atmospheric theaters, the Grand Rex’s auditorium makes its patrons feel like they’re in a Mediterranean courtyard contemplating a starry sky overhead. 

The Grand Rex is Europe’s largest cinema, spanning more than 21,527 square feet and boasting a 98-foot-tall ceiling. After its opening, it became a destination for masses of moviegoers. In fact, it was not uncommon for French people living outside the capital to come to Paris to admire the building and attend a screening. 

But as the novelty subsided, the Grand Rex entered a much more difficult period. It filed for bankruptcy and was on the verge of extinction before being acquired by Gaumont and, a year later, by Jean Hellmann, the grand-father of Alexander Hellmann, the theater’s current owner. 

During the war, the cinema was commandeered by the Germans and turned into a “Soldaten-kino,” a theater for soldiers, showing Nazi propaganda films. Following the liberation of Paris, the Grand Rex stopped its screenings for multiple months in order to house repatriated prisoners of war.

It was only after November 1945 that the cinema reconnected with the art of film. Just a year later, thanks to the successes of Bathing Beauty and Mr. Orchid, the cinema once again welcomed large crowds of moviegoers.

The Grand Rex has always made a point of providing its patrons with a unique experience. The cinema still offers pre-shows like the “Magical Waters” (“Féérie des eaux”) and fountain shows with its 1,200 streams. Throughout history, too, the Grand Rex was a place that transcended cinema, bursting with life and innovation. In 1957, Gary Cooper and French actress Mylène Demongeot inaugurated the first-ever escalator in a cinema. The theater also allows its patrons to enjoy music-hall performances and radio shows recorded on-stage.

The cinema often hosts prestigious, star-studded premieres. From Titanic to Avatar, through Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963, Star Wars and The Artist, the Rex welcomes high-profile guests like Jean Dujardin, George Cooney, and Mylène Farmer. The theater also welcomed Britney Spears and her feature film Crossroads in 2002, Vin Diesel for XXX that same year, and Daniel Craig and Eva Green for the premiere of Casino Royale in 2006. Big stars and big movies keep coming, decade after decade, in Paris’ major cultural center.

The Grand Rex’s façades and roofs, as well as its auditorium and decor, are listed as historic monuments. In 1988, the Grand Rex opened its 3,229 square foot “Grand Large” screen, the biggest non-Imax screen in Europe. Conceived and created by Luc Heripret, the screen was inaugurated with Luc Besson’s The Big Blue

The Grand Rex remains up to date with the latest cultural trends. It screens TV shows, like the finales of “Game of Thrones” and “The Boys” in addiiton to a marathon screening of the latest season of “Stranger Things” (between 5:30 pm and 6:30 am). The theater continues to host non-cinema events, mostly music shows. New Order recently reunited on its stage, and superstar Madonna will perform there next year. The cinema also organizes special screenings and previews in collaboration with Disney, as in the case of Coco in 2017.

Today, the auditorium can welcome an orchestra and, between its mezzanine and second balcony, 2,700 guests. 1,25 million people visit the Grand Rex every year. 

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