IMAX Pictorium, Gurnee 1979 — 2018


This is the television commercial for the IMAX Pictorium at Marriott’s Great America. NOTE: The video is a bit unstable at the beginning of the commercial but it quickly stabilizes. This is the only copy that I have.

Late in the day on April 25th, 2018 I got the news that the Pictorium at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois was to be demolished. By the 27th of April, the Pictorium was pretty much gone.

Opened in 1979, the premiere film for the Gurnee Pictorium was “To Fly!”. The Pictorium at Gurnee’s sister park in Santa Clara had opened in 1978 with the IMAX film “Man Belongs to the Earth”. One of the first IMAX films, “To Fly!” was the premiere film for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. “To Fly!” has been showing there since the museum opened on July 1, 1976.

Pictorium poster
This poster for the Pictorium at Marriott’s Great America in Gurnee features an image from a scene in “To Fly!”. To view larger, see the gallery at the end of this post.

At Gurnee, the Pictorium was originally sponsored by Procter & Gamble. During the Gurnee Pictorium’s inaugural season, Procter & Gamble distributed thousands of gift boxes to guests who visited the Pictorium. The boxes included promotional materials and coupons for Marriott’s Great America and Procter & Gamble products along with items of interest to children, recipe cards, a detergent bottle pump dispenser, a sample bottle of mouthwash, and most importantly, a sample package of new Country Style Hearty Pringle’s potato chips (back when Pringle’s was still owned by Procter & Gamble and they still called them Pringle’s potato chips instead of potato crisps).

Gurnee IMAX Pictorium gift box from Procter & Gamble
Here is the IMAX Pictorium gift box from Procter & Gamble along with a sample of the contents. To view larger, see the gallery at the end of this post.

At the Gurnee Pictorium I saw my first IMAX film, “To Fly!”. The Marriott’s Great America Pictorium theaters featured the world’s largest IMAX screens at the time. Viewing “To Fly!” in the Pictorium was an exhilarating experience with the stunning visuals and amazing sound and music. It was definitely uplifting and inspirational. Fully air-conditioned, the Pictorium provided park guests with welcome relief from the summer heat and an opportunity to relax and enjoy the show. For years, the Pictorium drew large crowds, frequently filling to capacity.

Eventually, IMAX theaters in theme parks began to lose their lustre. Attendance at shows dropped off and more and more parks removed the IMAX projection equipment from their theaters. This would happen at both Gurnee and Santa Clara. Gurnee continued to offer non-IMAX presentations in the Pictorium such as the “Screams and Dreams” series, a set of documentaries covering the park’s history produced by the park’s entertainment department. The last presentation I saw in the Gurnee Pictorium was the first “Screams and Dreams” film in July 2011. As a contributor to that production, it was an incredibly special moment for me to see my name and website appear on the big screen in the Pictorium as the credits rolled. Accompanying me at that showing were Angie Lovell McAvoy, Kyle Smith, Danielle Lobello, and Kristopher D. Jones. I believe that Jeannie Forystek was there for that showing, too. I apologize if there’s anyone I may be forgetting. Unexpectedly as I went through the park, park employees gave me the rock star treatment. That day will always remain a cherished memory. The last time I actually saw the Gurnee Pictorium was in January 2016.

Gurnee Pictorium, January 2016
January 2016: Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was the last time I would ever see the Pictorium in Gurnee. To view larger, see the gallery at the end of this post.

I’m definitely sorry to see the Gurnee Pictorium go. It had a great run. I’ll be posting more photos and information about the two Pictorium theaters in the future.

To view larger versions of these photos, click on any image below.

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