Dr. Kirk Johnson

Office of the Director

National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Institution

MRC 106, P.O. Box 37012

Washington, DC 20013-7012



Dear Dr. Johnson and Members of the Board of the National Museum of Natural History,

We, a group of documentary IMAX® producers and directors, whose films have earned more than $1 billion at the global box office, are writing to express our grave concern about the plans to demolish the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Natural History.

It is our understanding through conversations with Dr. Johnson that the Smithsonian Institution plans to show its last IMAX film by Oct. 1 this year, and will demolish the theater in order to make way for an expanded cafeteria. We are writing to ask you to reconsider this plan.

The Johnson IMAX Theater is the premier venue in the United States dedicated to running the most successful and impactful educational documentary films about the natural world. This theater and its massive six-story screen draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Many of these visitors are school children who come to learn about the wonders of our environment through the IMAX experience. The effect this venue has on future generations is important, serving to educate and engage them in nature, and even to inspire them to become botanists, biologists, zoologists, anthropologists, entomologists, geologists, archeologists, and deep-sea explorers. IMAX films give audiences the ability to EXPERIENCE and learn about nature viscerally, in a way that traditional and often static museum displays normally do not accomplish as effectively.

The National Museum of Natural History is the one place in the nation’s capital where children can enjoy the highest quality natural history exhibits, collections and films. It would be a shame to lose one of the most engaging and successful parts of this remarkable educational offering.

If the Johnson Theater is destroyed, only one IMAX theater will be left on the National Mall, at the Air and Space Museum, where natural history films are traditionally not shown. Moreover, we understand that the IMAX at Air and Space could be closed for as many as two years during its own renovations that start next year. The resulting total loss of the IMAX experience in downtown Washington, DC, therefore, seems incongruous with the need to accommodate the interests of 25 million visitors to the National Mall each year.

Surely, this decision cannot be based on concern over revenue. As suppliers of many of your most successful films, and based on the ticket sales information we receive for the films we have shown there, the Johnson Theater generates revenues well into the seven figures annually.

Likewise, we imagine decisions like this would be made based on furthering the mission of the Smithsonian, which by its own statement has identified among its “grand challenges”: 

  • Magnifying the Transformative Power of Arts and Design
  • Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe
  • Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet
  • Valuing World Cultures

Is not every one of these challenges met in some way by the Johnson Theater and the IMAX films that are shown there?

We fully understand the desire to find new ways to best serve those who visit the museum. Before such a permanent decision is made by the current museum leadership, we simply ask three things:

First, we ask that the leadership at the museum delay the planned demolition in order to engage in a transparent, public dialogue that solicits feedback from educators, tourism officials, the IMAX film industry and other stakeholders, including, of course the public visitors.

Second, we ask that the museum obtain from the Smithsonian’s business unit, and share, as a public institution, a full financial report of all IMAX theaters owned by the Smithsonian, as well as the rationale for, and expected revenues from, an expanded cafeteria.

Third, we would like to understand why the option of both keeping the IMAX theater and expanding food service was not acted upon.

In a world where nature is slipping farther from our grasp, IMAX educational films have the proven power to educate, engage and inspire a new generation of scientists, environmentalists and defenders of our planet. We need to serve our children ideas at the Natural History Museum more than we need to sell them more food.



Greg MacGillivray, Producer/Director/CEO, MacGillivray Freeman Films (National Parks Adventure, Everest, Alps, Coral Reef Adventure, Dolphins, Grand Canyon Adventure, Hurricane on the Bayou, Arabia, Amazing Caves, Adventures in Wild California)

Jonathan Barker, Producer/CEO, SK Films (Amazon Adventure, Flight of the Butterflies, Bugs, Journey to Mecca, Into the Deep)

Stephen Low, Director/CEO, The Stephen Low Company (Beavers, Rocky Mountain Express, Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, The Ultimate Wave Tahiti)

Toni Myers, Producer/Director (Under the Sea, Hubble, A Beautiful Planet)

Taran Davies, Producer

George Duffield, Producer

Daniel Ferguson, Director

Dominic Cunningham-Reid, Producer

Cosmic Picture (Jerusalem, Journey to Mecca, Superpower Dogs, Einstein’s Incredible Universe)

Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, Directors/Producers (The Last Reef, Sharks, Wild Ocean, Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey)

Sean McLeod Phillips, Director/Cinematographer (Sea Monsters, Mysteries of the Unseen World)

Chris Palmer, Professor of Film and Media Arts

Mark Kresser, President at K2 Communications

Bob Kresser, CEO at K2 Communications

Howard Hall, Producer/Director/Cinematographer

Michele Hall, Producer/Director/Cinematographer


Ms. Paula Kerger, Chair of the Board

Ms. Kathryn S. Fuller, Vice-Chair

The Honorable Bruce Babbitt

Dr. Jane Buikstra

Dr. Cady Coleman

Dr. Scott Edwards

Mr. John Fahey

Ms. Gabriela Febres-Cordero

Dr. Jonathan Fink

Mr. Paul Haaga

Dr. Tuajuanda Jordan

Mr. Gary Knell

Mr. David Koch

Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Mr. Greg Lucier

Ambassador William Luers

Ambassador Robert Mandell

Mr. Timothy Phillips

Mr. David Rubenstein

Dr. Jeremy Sabloff

Mr. John Sall

Ms. Sophia Shaw

Ms. Camilla Smith

Dr. Jorge Soberón

Mr. Marshall Turner

Dr. Coralyn Wright Whitney