For years, audiences have flocked to museums to see exhibits of film props and iconic pop culture artifacts.
For example, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are a major draw at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. Some museums are going a step further, capitalizing on audience interest by creating exhibits around new movie releases to tell real-life stories.
That's the case with the 2012 political thriller Argo, which won four Oscar awards last year. The film tells the story of a covert operation led by CIA agent Tony Mendez, who created a phony Canadian film crew in a scheme to rescue six U.S. diplomats who were in hiding at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran after the Iranian revolution.
Argo is the subject of a recent exhibit at the International Spy Museum, where visitors can see authentic photos and documents about the operation.
“Tony and Jonna [Tony’s wife] Mendez, both founding members of the International Spy museum, they brought their expertise and history with the CIA to tell the story of Argo, the real story that occurred in 1979, 1980,” said museum spokesperson Jason Werden.
Other film-related exhibits at the Spy Museum include “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond villains.”
“[It’s] highlighting all of the 23 Bond films over the last 50 years and again bridging the gap between what is really occurring in real life and what you see on screen,” said Werden.
“The Americans” is another exhibit built around a hit TV spy drama.
“We have an exhibit at our lobby detailing not just the exciting characters in the show, but really the history of the Cold War that we are now seeing everyday in the headlines,” Werden said.
The Newseum, a Washington D.C. museum focusing on journalism, has also embraced a bit of Hollywood.
“Anchorman: The Exhibit,” is its first effort to incorporate a movie into its offerings. The 2004 comedy takes place in a San Diego TV station in the 1970s, where actor Will Ferrell’s character Ron Burgundy clashes with his new female counterpart.
The exhibit opened last December just before the release of the sequel "Anchorman 2."
Newseum spokesman Jonathan Thompson is amazed at how popular it has been.
“When visitors come into the Newseum, all of them are asking, 'Where is the Anchorman Exhibit? I heard you have an exhibit about Ron Burgundy, show me where that is,’” he said.
Jim Mulvaney, who works at a radio station in Chicago, visited the exhibit.
“It is surprising that they went to so much detail and kept so many props," Mulvaney said. "I am enjoying it. It brings back a lot of funny moments from the film for me.”
Thompson says the exhibit allows visitors see the lighter side of the news, while highlighting a serious issue: opportunities for women in news.
“The film focuses on this fictional anchorman who is kind of a clown of the newsroom, and is always kind of saying some not so nice things about the women in the newsroom," he said. "It is a story that resonated with us because there is some truth to the Anchorman films; women in the newsroom were discriminated against."
Playing off popular films in museums benefits both the museums and Hollywood.
“It gives Hollywood another opportunity to take the material that they create, often wonderful material, into new venues to be experienced by new audiences that would not necessarily experience it," said Maggie Stogner, a film and arts professor at American University in Washington, D.C. "If you have a screening experience in a movie theater, it is you and the screen. When you take it to the museum environment, you can really play with this material. You can use it in group settings. You can use it to to take people into the story behind the movie.”
The partnership between Hollywood and museums, Stogner says, is an example of how boundaries can be pushed, presenting new, exciting ways to engage audiences.