USA

The Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood – A Thorough Review

I love TV.  I have one of those brains that has a hard time relaxing. One of the few ways I can get a break is to watch a show…or two.  My favorites over the years have ranged from Cheers & Seinfeld to Breaking Bad & Survivor to current favorites like Ted Lasso & Fauda. So, when I was tripping activities in the LA area for our recent Rose Bowl trip, and came across the Warner Bros Studio Tour, it seemed like a no-brainer.  A chance to see where and how TV and movies are made?  Sign me up!

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links.  If you buy something after clicking one of these links, I may earn a small commission.  This does not cost you anything extra and helps support this blog.

First, a Little History

The Warner Bros Hollywood Studio is located in Burbank, about 15 minutes north of downtown LA.  The studio was established all the way back in 1926. Films – and then TV – have been made there for almost 100 years!  The studio sits on 62 acres and is made up of outdoor movie sets, multiple sound stages, and buildings dedicated to all facets of movie & television production.  Well-known films made here include Casablanca, My Fair Lady, Goonies, and several of the Batman movies.  Well-known TV series include Friends and The Big Bang Theory.  

The Warner Bros Studio Tour is a great way to see and understand the process that goes into making film and TV.  And I will say right off the bat that the tour exceeded my expectations.  In my research, I discovered that the tour is one of the highest-rated area activities on TripAdvisor. But still, I thought our access to a busy working studio might be somewhat diluted.  Not the case!  It was an in-depth tour with a great deal of insight and access to what seemed like a big portion of the studio.  Plus, it featured a lot of really impressive interactive displays.  Let me show you….

Getting Started

The entrance to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Burbank California

Traditionally, Warner Bros Studio offers a few different kinds of tours. They’ve made adjustments for the pandemic, and only 1 tour is currently available called The Studio Tour.  This tour starts every 30 minutes between 9am and 3:30pm, five days weekly.  Currently, you must purchase tickets online in advance, and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is required. The guided portion of the tour lasts about an hour.  Self-guided touring through various displays can take another 1-3 hours depending on how long you want to linger.  We spent 2 hours on the lot.  

You can click here to purchase tickets on Viator

Our tour started in a screening room where we watched  a short 5-minute movie quickly covering the Studio’s history. 

The screening room at the start of the Warner Bros Studio Tour

We were then directed outside where we divided up into smaller groups.  Each group was assigned a guide and a tour cart.  Our guide’s name was Maxx. 

One of the carts used for the Warner Bros Studio Tour

The Backlot – You Might Recognize Some of This

First we drove through and explored the Backlot – a series of outdoor sets that have been constructed over the years, and have been used in countless movies and TV shows. Many of these sets date to the 1930s and all are still in use today. As Maxx took us down one street after the other, we jumped from small town Midwest to downtown New York, from tree-lined residential streets to seedy back alleys.

Gazebo on the Warner Bros Backlot
Midwestern street on the Warner Bros Backlot
City building on the Warner Bros backlot
Another City Street on the Warner Bros backlot
Banking buildings on the Warner Bros backlot

And we didn’t just stay in the cart. We got out and walked up and down these empty streets. We were even allowed enter a few of the buildings. Some are just empty shells like the photo below….

Looking inside one of the backlot building fronts

While others are called “Practicals” and are used for their interiors as well. In the photo below, Maxx explains how the decor of the room is changed constantly depending on what’s needed for the production, and how the open ceilings are used for gear.

One of the "practicals"

Maxx also explained how even the exteriors can be adjusted. The bricks aren’t bricks. They are made of styrene and can easily be replaced in en masse for a different look. All the buildings also lack exterior features like door handles and lights, as you can see in the picture below. These are added at the time of filming, based on each production’s needs.

No doorknobs or light fixtures on the front of backlot buildings

As we walked from location to location, Maxx would point out the storied filming history of individual streets, storefronts, and buildings. Memorable scenes like the alley for Spiderman’s upside-side down kiss, the cafe in Casablanca, the street outside Annie’s orphanage, the last shot of the Seinfeld series, and many many more.

Once back in the cart after each set, a short video would then show us each set’s transformation from one movie to another over the decades – very cool!

The Front Lot and Stage 16

Next up on the Warner Bros Studio Tour was the Front Lot. This is its collection of 30 sound stages where the interior production of films and TV takes place. Inside these huge soundproof buildings, elaborate sets are built, specific to each production.

Soundstages line the streets of the Warner Bros Studio Front Lot

We stopped at Stage 16. At 65 feet tall, it’s the largest on the lot and one of the tallest in the world. It also has a 2 million gallon water tank under its floor, extending another 30 feet below ground, allowing films like The Perfect Storm and Poseidon to be filmed inside.

Stage 16 at Warner Bros Studio Front Lot

At the time of our tour, the soundstage wasn’t in use. So we were able to walk inside and take in its cavernous enormity.

The inside of Stage 16

Each soundstage has a plaque on the outside listing its production history. Take a close look and you can see plenty of classics on Stage 16’s list including Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park.

All the Features and TV series filmed at Warner Bros Stage 16 are listed on a plaque at the buildings entrance

We also had the chance to drive directly through The Mill. This is the construction department where the interior sets are created.

The Mill - where sets are constructed at the Warner Bros Studio

We also drove past the large building that houses the property department. This is where all the furniture and fixtures required to dress a set are kept. We weren’t able to enter, but could see stacks of lamps and other fixtures through the windows. Maxx described the intricate cataloguing and ordering system that the Studio has set up as we passed.

After this, the guided portion of the tour ended, and Maxx dropped us off at a building called Stage 48.

Stage 48 – Friendstravaganza

Stage 48 is the first of two interactive experiences on the Warner Bros Studio Tour. And there was lots going on in this building. Most popular is the coffee shop set from the TV series Friends. I personally never watched much of Friends, but this seemed to be the highlight for a great percentage of tour participants. Here, fans can line up and get a photo on the couch. I had to act fast to get the shot below in between groups of giddy fans.

The Friends set at Stage 48

There is also a Friend’s-themed fully-functioning coffee shop inside the building. Plus, a large gift shop mostly dedicated to Friend’s paraphernalia. Important note to those who need to eat midday like I do – the coffee shop has what looked to be a decent food menu, too.

Stage 48 also features the living room set from The Big Bang Theory where fans can also pose for photos.

The Big Bang Theory Set at Stage 48

In addition to the sets from those two popular TV shows, Stage 48 also offers an immersive experience called Script to Screen. As we walked from room to room, we were learned about the many sequential steps involved in film and TV production. It was all very interesting, especially all the costume displays. And I finally know what a foley artist does (creates the every day sound effects that are added post-production).

A Star is Born display at Stage 48
One of Lady Gaga’s costumes from A Star is Born. Also note the album art used in the movie on the wall behind
Costumes from My Fair Lady as part of the Script to Screen experience on the Warner Bros Studio Tour
Costumes from the Ascot Horse Race in My Fair Lady
Dobby takes part in a Motion Capture demonstration as part of the Script to Screen experience at Stage 48
An example of Motion Capture. Me, as Dobby from Harry Potter, taking a picture of me as Dobby

To Couch or Not to Couch

It would be easy to spend several hours at Stage 48. But we breezed through pretty quick, spending about 30 minutes. When we were ready to leave, a tour cart was waiting outside, and we were taken to the final displays on the tour.

First though, while again passing through the Backlot, we were given the option to get off and have our picture taken on the couch and fountain from Friend’s opening sequence. Again, not big Friend’s fans, so we stayed on the cart and headed directly to The Archive, which is located in the main tour building.

The Friends Couch and Fountain on the Warner Bros Backlot

The Archive – Where I Became Hufflepuff

First up – costumes from many of the DC Comics movies, all made by Warner Bros Studios, including Michael Keaton’s Batman and Christopher Reeves’s Superman,

Superman and Batman costumes on display at Warner Bros Studio

Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman,

More Batman and Superman costumes on display at Warner Bros Studio

and one of a long line of Batmobiles used in the movie franchise – this is the Tim Burton version.

The Batmobile is on display at The Archive

Next, was Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. Harry Potter was filmed at the Warner Bros Studio in England rather than this one, but it is still a big deal on the Hollywood Studio Tour.

Entrance to Wizarding World - part of the Warner Bros Studio Tour

Here, several Harry Potter sets and scenes were recreated for our photo-taking pleasure.

Harry Potters bedroom in Wizarding World
A scene from Harry Potter in the Wizarding World display

Plus, we had the opportunity to participate in a Sorting Ceremony. We may have not wanted to sit on the various Friend’s couches, but we couldn’t pass up the Sorting Ceremony! The hat was lowered on to our heads (kind of), and our House was chosen by a voice above and around us. Me – Hufflepuff! Mrs. TT – Slytherin!! I’ll have to watch out around her now….

Finally, we found ourselves in a room surrounded by various awards collected by the Studio over the years, including a few of their Oscars. This is the first time I’ve ever seen an actual Oscar. The one pictured here is My Fair Lady’s Best Picture Academy Award from 1964.

The 1964 Best Picture Oscar - My Fair Lady.  On display at the Archive on the Warner Bros Studio Tour

Final Thoughts

Our time on the Warner Bros Studio Tour was thoroughly enjoyable. We learned a lot about film and TV production, had much better studio access than I imagined, and we were impressed with the interactive displays. We don’t tend to linger at displays, so our tour only took about 2 hours. But I can certainly understand why the Warner Bros website states that it could take 3-4. If you love TV (or movies) as much as I do, then don’t hesitate to spend a few hours on the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Burbank. You can click here to purchase tickets on Viator

If you would like to read about some of other great tours from my travels, then check out this post about an Air Tour in Kauai, this one about Touring Ballard Locks in Seattle, or this one about a Cooking Class in Seville Spain.

And during this trip to LA, I decided to exclusively use ride share for our transportation needs rather than renting a car like I usually do. Did I save money? Yes! A lot actually. Click here to check out my blog post about Uber vs Car Rental in LA

23 Comments

    • thethoroughtripper

      Thanks Tom! As I think back to many trips to LA over the years, it’s definitely a highlight. Not sure why I’ve never done it until now.

  • Paul (Paul Passing Through)

    Really interesting article. I think it’s so fascinating that the outdoor sets don’t have doorknobs or light fixtures. It would be so neat to walk through those soundstages where some of my favorite films were made. I do think it’s funny that they have Harry Potter sets. It would be fun but odd knowing none of them were filmed there.

    • thethoroughtripper

      We really learned so many interesting facts like that about TV and film production. Never read any Harry Potter myself. Watched each movie with the kids, but they came out so far apart that I had a hard time remembering the full story line over all the subsequent years. Still though, couldn’t pass up getting Sorted

  • Pat Olson

    I loved your letter I found it really interesting id love to see it in person that and tmz tour bus tour. I’d love to see the friends set
    when I know I’m going to la I’m going to book a tour with wb thats for the information. Pat

  • Lisa at Following the Rivera

    I would love to do this tour! I love all of the Hollywood films and of course the shows too. It’s so cool to see the sets like this, it makes it more real!

  • Vanessa Shields

    What an awesome tour! This is one thing I keep saying I’m going to do but never drive up to LA to go on it. You’ve motivated me to go this year! I’d love to see all the different sets and learn about productions. That’s neat that you can see everything that’s been filmed in each stage before entering. I had no idea there was such a huge water tank in one. Filming in that must be pretty cool to see.

  • Dylan Jones

    I love the idea of doing this tour, it looks great. It’s great that they have the names of productions filmed in the soundstages listed outside. Definitely adding this to my list when I finally get back to LA.

  • Stefan (Berkeley Square Barbarian)

    Cheers, Seinfeld & Breaking Bad are all series I loved too, especially the latter. It is amazing that the studios have been around for nearly 100 years, yes, and that the Backlot outdoor sets are still in use but lack door handles or lights…

    The dimensions of Stage 16 are truly mindboggling wow..

  • Jane

    Fascinating! I would definitely go out of my way to take this tour. I am a huge fan of Big Bang so the chance to sit in Sheldon’s “spot” would be hard to resist and My Fair Lady is one of my favourites. The tour looks interesting and informative as well as fun. I suppose my only worry might be that seeing the shell behind the facade might take away some of the magic? Probably not! The suspension of disbelief is alive and well 😊

  • Francesca

    It’s so interesting seeing how iconic films and TV shows were made. I really like that they’ve kept the historical aspects like Stage 16 and the costumes. Would love a go on the sorting hat too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.