Museums & the Movies – Part 1: Museums in a Leading Role

February 25, 2011


Do you have a favourite museum movie? Mine, without hesitation, would be the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan as suave playboy billionaire Thomas Crown, who moonlights as an art thief at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. Followed closely by Don’t Eat the Pictures, from 1983, which sees the Sesame Street gang descend, once again, on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Actually, once you start listing movies that feature museums, the MET racks up quite a few appearances.

With this year’s Oscars almost upon us, I thought it would be the perfect time to put together a guide of ‘Museums & the Movies’. The list started getting so long, that I’ve ended up splitting it over two posts. Part 1 focuses on movies in which the main plot or a significant part of the plot revolves around a museum. In some cases, because of filming restrictions, the on-screen museums and their off-screen real life counterparts don’t always match up, but to avoid the list getting too long and complicated, I’ve in each case gone for the museum in the ‘role’ it plays in the movie.

I’ve not actually had the chance to see all these movies yet – for those that I haven’t the information mostly results from much research on Wikipedia and the IMDB – so if you spot any errors or missing information, please do let me know. For those that I have seen, I’ll be writing up a series of movie reviews over the next few months. But for now, take your pick from these to put you in the mood for the Oscars – which one would get your vote for “Best Movie Featuring a Museum”?

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
Location: (1) London; (2) New York City
Starring:  (1) a wax museum; (2) a new wax museum

House of Wax (1953)
Location: (1) New York City;
Starring: (1) a wax museum; (2) a new wax museum

Topkapi (1964)
Location: Istanbul
Starring: Topkapi Palace Museum

How To Steal A Million (1966)
Location: Paris
Starring: Kléber-Lafayette Museum

The Hot Rock – How To Steal A Diamond In Four Uneasy Lessons (1972)
Location: New York City
Starring: a Brooklyn museum

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler a.k.a. The Hideaways (1973)
Location: New York City
Starring: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Terror in the Wax Museum (1973)
Location: London
Starring: Dupree’s Wax Museum

One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975)
Location: London
Starring: Natural History Museum

Don’t Eat the Pictures: Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983)
Location: New York City
Starring: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993)
Location: Wigan, Greater Manchester
Starring: the town museum

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (1995)
Location: New York City
Starring: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Relic (1997)
Location: Chicago
Starring: Museum of Natural History

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Location: New York City
Starring: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Russian Ark (2002)
Location: St. Petersburg
Starring: The State Hermitage

Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2002)
Location: Coolsville
Starring: Coolsonian Criminology Museum

House of Wax (2005)
Location: Ambrose, USA
Starring: a wax museum

Curious George (2006)
Location: USA
Starring: Bloomsberry Museum

Night at the Museum (2006)
Location: New York City
Starring: American Museum of Natural History

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Starring: The Smithsonian Institution (National Air & Space Museum; National Gallery of Art; Smithsonian Castle; National Museum of Natural History)

The Maiden Heist (2009)
Location: USA
Starring: an art museum

In Part 2: Museums in a Supporting Role

If you can think of any other movies where museums play a leading role, or have any corrections to suggest, please add your information in the comments section. Thank you.

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