The Grand Reopening Of Warner Brothers Studio Tour Gives Film Buffs A Glimpse Into Film & TV Magic
LOS ANGELES, CA- In one of the latest signs that Southern California is getting back to the business of entertainment, Warner Brothers Studio Tour Hollywood recently hosted its grand reopening celebration. For film buffs and people interested in movie magic, this tour provides a glimpse into the filmmaking process as well as Warner Brothers’ hundred-year history.
Though I’ve spent most of my life in Los Angeles, I had somehow never realized it was possible to take a public tour of the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank. That meant that while they were celebrating the opening of an elaborate new Welcome Center, the whole experience was new to me. I’m also the type of person who doesn’t recognize celebrities unless they come in pairs — and sometimes not even then — so I wasn’t really the intended audience for the experience. And yet, I found myself enjoying each portion of the afternoon.
To be clear: this isn’t a theme park with rides unless you count the cart tour that winds through the studio lot. As an aficionado of unusual forms of transportation, I found the carts to be a highlight. We cruised past everything from their jungle set to “neighborhoods” where shows such as B Positive are filming, then zigged and zagged through soundstages that housed All American and a variety of other current productions.
If you’ve never seen a studio or film set, it’s definitely an experience worth having. It’s all simultaneously smaller and vaster than you’d expect — with small areas carefully cropped to appear larger than they are flanked by the massive crews and collections of equipment that make filming possible, all just out of sight of the cameras. At a studio, that’s accompanied by the striking sight of different worlds and time periods casually sitting side by side.
Warner Brothers is, of course, a working studio, so the tour varies depending on what is in production at the time of your visit. Certain areas, however, are there specifically for the visitor experience. Guests enter through the Welcome Center, which starts by highlighting the studio’s history in the Storytelling Showcase. The walls are lined with images and clips of films and tv shows ranging from the days of the Warners themselves to the present: Casablanca, Rebel Without a Cause, Dirty Harry, Dallas, Chico and the Man, A Clockwork Orange, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Gilmore Girls, Friends, Ellen, and on and on.
During the grand reopening festivities, special guest Patty Jenkins (director of the Wonder Woman films) spoke of her experiences with Warner Brothers and being keenly aware of the legacy and the “treasure trove” of film history all around her when she worked on the lot. A significant portion of the visitor area focuses on props and costumes from the DC universe, and Jenkins shouted out the work of the crew members who bring those items to life. Visitors can, for example, step into Wonder Woman’s unfurled wings — described by Jenkins as objects that could have been digitally added but instead were the work of artists. As you peer at cars, invented machines, and costumes for everyone from Aquaman to Harley Quinn, you can appreciate all the hard work that goes into each production.
We also had the opportunity to hold a real Oscar statuette, which was surprisingly heavy. I feared I might drop it, which must be the universal response since the guide stayed at the ready, just in case.
There’s also an area devoted to Harry Potter, where guests can wander through a variety of recreated sets for photo ops. One of the highlights was a visit to the Sorting Hat, which was apparently getting a bit of an assist since everyone happily found themselves placed in their favorite house. I’m always surprised by how many people want to be in Slytherin, but hey — to each their own.
There are, of course, many different Harry Potter theme parks, sets, exhibits, and more out there. The only place I’ve personally been is King’s Cross Station (home of platform 9 ¾), so I can’t compare them. I know, I know — it’s time to make a trip to see them all. That said, the photo op sets were fun. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour experience is also linked to the Harry Potter shop in New York as well as the (much larger) sets in England, so the focus here is on imagery, filming, and merchandise.
Another fan-favorite portion of the tour was a visit to the Friends-themed Boutique. This zone tapped into the nostalgia for the show that’s particularly heightened with the recent reunion special. Guests sip beverages from Central Perk and lounge in seating areas that recreate the show’s sets. And of course, it doubles as a gift shop so that you can take home anything from a Friends air freshener to a book or a t-shirt if the spirit moves you.
Personally, I only ever saw a few episodes of the show, but it was still fun to explore this section. It was such an inescapable phenomenon that even I discovered I had nostalgia for it as I snacked and checked out the Friends dishware. The other people on the tour clearly adored this part, and they cheered heartily for special guest speaker Maggie Wheeler. The actress, who played the character Janice in the series, spoke about how special and meaningful it was to be part of such a massive cultural juggernaut. As she slipped in and out of her character’s famous voice — depending on the question she was answering — the crowd hooted and hollered for her. Friends may be over, but it clearly lives on.
Finally, like any attraction worth its salt, the tour has guests exit through the gift shop. There are extensive sections devoted to Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls, Ellen, Riverdale, and more. Arrow and Flash costumes stood guard near the entrance, where I eyed the wand selection. Guests can also purchase themed journals that can be personalized and embossed. Knowing I’d never actually write in such a thing, I stopped short of buying one, but they looked cool enough that I came close anyway. Overall, the merchandise selection was on point.
In many ways, the visit is one long photo op that seems geared toward Instagram moments. A massive Triwizard Tournament Cup looms in the main lobby, a small recreation of the iconic water tower waits for guests in the Storytelling Showcase, the Friends area consists of wall-to-wall zones that encourage you to linger and snap pictures, and more. While that aspect was fun, the part I enjoyed the most was the cart tour with its view into real-life filmmaking. I was there by myself and found myself wondering who would want to join me for a return visit on a day I could stay longer and see more of the soundstages.
Finally, I need to give a shout-out to their parking lot. So many places in Los Angeles feature parking spots so narrow that I’m always expecting I’ll have to pull a Dukes of Hazzard maneuver and hop out of the window of my car. Happily, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour parking lot has ample space, meaning both the start and end of my visit were happy ones. It’s not cheap ($69/adults ages 11+; $59/children ages 5-10; SoCal resident weekday tickets $57), but the visit was fun overall and good for a special excursion for movie fans.