The Studio Tour (also known as The Backlot Tour) is a ride attraction at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in Universal City, California near Los Angeles. Visit 13 city blocks on four acres of historic studio lot in the largest set construction project in studio history. The park’s signature attraction, it travels through a working film studio, with various film sets on the Universal Studios Lot. In recent years, guests have sat in multi-car trams for the duration of the ride.
In the latest version of the studio tour, comedian Jimmy Fallon serve as the narrator, the video host of the Studio Tour. The star of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” introduces entertaining clips seen on HD monitors in the trams to augment the live Studio Tour guide narration. Telemundo’s Carmen Villalobos takes on a new leading role as the video host of Spanish-language Studio Tour. The new vignettes provide entertaining insights for guests designed to complement the live narration provided by expert Studio Tour guides.
The tour has always been at the heart of Universal Studios Hollywood. From 1915 when visitors sat on bleachers for 25 cents, via the 1964 introduction of pink and white GlamorTrams, to the current technological sophistication, the behind-the-scenes view of a working movie studio has been a key attraction. During the early years of the tram tour (1964 – 1977) all of the attractions at Universal were reached via the tram. With the introduction of the Screen Test Comedy Theater and the Animal Actors stage in 1977, the Upper Lot became an attraction in itself.
The tour originally departed from the Upper Lot. In 1991, it was moved to the Lower Lot following the construction of the Starway escalator system. Early view of the lower section of the Starway, showing the tram loading station, and area before Jurassic Park. In 1996 it moved back to the Upper Lot to make room for Jurassic Park River Adventure on the Lower Lot.
As the movie studio has evolved, the tour has evolved with it. In late 1989, CD players finally gave the tour guides a chance to rest their voices. In 1999, the CD players were replaced by DVD players and LCD screens, allowing the tour guides to show scenes from movies filmed at the locations the trams pass. In 2009, the screens were upgraded to high-definition.
In April 2014, Nighttime Studio Tours were announced as coming in 2015 – this will extend the hours of the Studio Tour, and bring the backlot to life after dark, and paving the way for extended opening hours for the rest of the park as the Harry Potter attractions near completion.
Universal Studios Lot
Universal Studios Lot is a television and film studio complex located at 100 Universal City Plaza in Universal City, California. It is the site of Universal Pictures and is owned by Comcast through its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal. The lot officially opened the gates of Universal City on March 15, 1915. Today the Universal Studios Lot is made up of 400 acres, which includes more than 30 sound stages and 165 separate structures.
On March 15, 1915, Carl Laemmle opened Universal City Studios on a 230-acre ranch in the San Fernando Valley and called it “Universal City”. The site later became known as Universal Studios Lot and Universal City was considered the first self-contained community dedicated to making films.
In 1950, Universal Studios Lot increased its overall size to 400 acres after Universal acquired additional land at the southern border of the studio. Music Corporation of America (MCA Inc.) bought the Universal Studios Lot in 1958. Universal then leased back its property from MCA until MCA and Universal merged in 1962.
Over the next decades, numerous television shows and movies were filmed in Universal Studios Lot, notably at the Courthouse Square and Colonial Street sets.. This includes Psycho (Paramount Pictures), Back to the Future (Universal Pictures), The Perfect Storm (Warner Bros.), War of the Worlds (Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks), Desperate Housewives (ABC), and The Good Place (NBC). Today, Universal Studios Lot is one of the largest full-service production facilities. It has continued to modernize and grow with plans to expand by adding additional soundstages and building facilities. Since 2016, the NBC show American Ninja Warrior has filmed their Los Angeles city qualifiers and finals courses on the lot.
Studio Tour Highlights:
Right past the Studio Tour Plaza, the Studio Tour attraction is a 45 to 60 minute ride which uses tram vehicles to take the visitors from the Theme Park’s Upper Lot to the back-lot where actual filming of many shows and movies take place.
The Studio Tour is a public attraction both as a VIP and at the adjacent Universal Studios Hollywood theme park that offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the historic studio lot. The tour first opened in 1915 when Carl Laemmle invited visitors to see the studio in action. The Universal Tour was halted in the late 1920s and revived in 1964. Since then it has evolved through countless iterations, including new tour hosts, movie sets, and experiences.
The tour is the signature ride at the theme park and the wait time varies by day and seasons. The tour begins with a video introduction by Jimmy Fallon and a trip down the hill into the Front Lot. After drifting through the sound stages of the Front Lot and transitioning into the Metropolitan Sets of the back lot, the tram then takes the guests to Courthouse Square section and then other buildings in the back lot. Afterwards, the tram enters a tunnel leading to the attraction: King Kong: 360 3-D. Then the tram travels through sets from Jurassic Park and encounter Dilophosauruses.
Following that, the tram travels to the Flash Flood attraction. The tram continues through Old Mexico, Six Points Texas, a miniature model of the SS Venture from King Kong, and Little Europe before experiencing Earthquake: The Big One attraction, movie sets themed as Amity Island from Jaws, Whoville from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Bates motel from Psycho, and the crashed plane set from War of the Worlds, before leading to the final attraction on the tour, Fast & Furious: Supercharged based on the Fast & Furious film franchise.
A Crash Course in Set Design – Encounter the smoldering wreckage of the Boeing 747 from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.
Jaw-Dropping Celebrity Sightings – There’s something in the water…Come face-to-face with Amity Island’s most famous resident – “Jaws”
King Kong 360 3-D – Come face to face with King Kong 360 3-D created by Peter Jackson. It’s the world’s largest, most intense 3-D experience.
Check in at the Bates Motel – There’s a vacancy just for you at the legendary Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Go Behind-the-Scenes – Explore the largest and busiest motion picture and TV studio in the world. More movies and television shows have filmed on this lot than any other lot in the world.
Fast & Furious – Supercharged! – Hold on tight for the grand finale of the Studio Tour, Fast & Furious – Supercharged!
Sets from the Universal movies Psycho, Back to the Future, The Sting, The Great Outdoors, and the Paramount/DreamWorks film War of the Worlds are visited in the tour. Walt Disney Studios has also used the backlot for movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, 101 Dalmatians, 102 Dalmatians, and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, specifically for town scenes. There are also ‘general purpose’ sets visited, such as the neighborhood Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, and a neighborhood that is made to look like an old west town. This neighborhood has six streets, each with the essentials of a saloon and sheriffs station. Before the advent of sound, up to six westerns could be shot at once.
The tour also winds through sound stages, and the tour guide explains what movies, television shows, music videos, commercials, and/or still camera photo shoots are currently shooting on the lot. Stage One, where The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien was filmed from June 2009 to January 2010, was added to the tour. O’Brien and announcer Andy Richter staged events outside the studio on occasion as part of The Tonight Show’s Tour-ific Tramtacular sketch. The tram also passes by miniature models of the ship and Skull Island from the 2005 King Kong remake.
Until June 1, 2008, the tour also passed through a group of facades resembling city streets of New York (used in the filming of Bruce Almighty and some elements in Transformers), Bring It On: In It to Win It, and New England, as well as the Courthouse Square set famously seen in the Back to the Future trilogy. However, these sets were constructed mainly of wood and therefore were highly flammable, and burned to the ground in an early morning fire. All the sets have been rebuilt and a new attraction at the Studio features King Kong: 360 3-D, which opened July 1, 2010.
The area beside the Psycho house (known as Psycho Flats) used to be the site of Falls Lake — a large water-tank and waterfall used in numerous productions. Falls Lake was moved over the summer of 2008, and the area is currently occupied by the huge outdoor airplane-crash set built for War Of The Worlds, directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg and crew were on the Universal backlot for three days shooting on the massive outdoor set. A commercial Boeing 747 aircraft was chopped into pieces and transported to Universal, where the full set has been left fully dressed as it was during filming. The only change made to the set following filming was to move the houses on the right of the tram off the road.
Before returning to the tour’s boarding area, the tram passes by an overlook of the San Fernando Valley, which includes views of neighboring Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.
The Studio Tour includes some special demonstrations, as well as some small segments. For example, an encounter with King Kong (King Kong: 360 3-D), a simulated flash flood, an 8.3 earthquake, a short encounter with Jaws, and a high speed car chase featuring the cast from the Fast & Furious movie franchise (Fast & Furious: Supercharged).
Jurassic Park (1996)
When the tram passes through the Isla Nublar set, guests are sprayed by animatronic Dilophosaurus. It is very similar to the end of the Jurassic World ride. Prior to the event, the tram also passes props and vehicles from the original Jurassic Park films.
Psycho: Bates Mansion (1964)
The Psycho house was one of the big draws of the Universal Tram Tour, back in 1964, and has continued to be instantly recognizable in recent years. In 1984, the Psycho house was used in the Knight Rider episode “Halloween Knight”. The episode mentions of a man named Norman Baines who is supposed to be the murder suspect at a Halloween party. Also, when Michael Knight, Bonnie and KITT arrive at the house, Michael mentions that “Boy, this place looks really familiar” before he says “Nah!”.
Flash Flood (1968)
The downhill flood effect has appeared in many films, including Big Fat Liar and Fletch Lives. There is a story that when a group of dignitaries and celebrities including John Wayne visited the Flash Flood in the early days, the water levels were still being perfected and the group got soaked.
The Jaws event opened a year after the release of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film. It is an attraction that features the moving shark anamatronic from the film and other sets. The actual hero prop boat ‘Orca’ was placed in the lagoon as a center piece, but was removed between 1991 and 1992 and chopped up for timber (Jaws director Steven Spielberg learned of the fate of the ‘Orca’, much to his anger, after noticing it gone while he was on the ride).
The shark as seen in the attraction has had cameos in multiple television shows and films including the made-for-TV film The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island in 1981, the episode “Hooray for Hollywood” from Diff’rent Strokes in 1984, and the episode “Fright Knight” from Knight Rider in 1986. The Amity Harbor/Village area that is associated with the Jaws attraction (minus the moving shark) was the set used in two Airwolf episodes “The American Dream” (Season 2) and “Where Have All the Children Gone” (Season 3).
The Earthquake event is an 8.3 earthquake inside a soundstage, designed to make it look like a San Francisco subway station. They have a hot set; a hot set is a stage in which various props stay in use and cannot be moved. The attraction features a gimbal which allows it to shake the tram, a burning gasoline truck that collapses through the roof, fire and spark effects, a derailing subway train, and a flood of water. The attraction resets itself within just 15 seconds to prepare itself for the next tramload of guests.
Psycho: Bates Motel (2008)
As the tram passes the Bates Motel, the guests witness Norman Bates carrying a corpse to a car. After placing the body in the trunk, he notices the tram and walks towards it with a kitchen knife as the tram leaves just in time to escape. Bates is portrayed by an Anthony Perkins lookalike and on some occasions, a Vince Vaughn lookalike. If the actors are not available, a cardboard cutout of Anthony Perkins as Bates is used in the Cabin 1 window.
King Kong: 360 3-D (2010)
Studio Tour guests wear 3-D glasses as the tram enters a sound stage dressed as a recreation of Skull Island. Two Venatosaurus creatures attack and begin to chase the tram, which disturbs King Kong, who begins to fight them. The fight continues from one side of the tram to the other, as air and water effects are blown onto guests to further the illusion. Near the end of the experience, a V-Rex gets a hold of what is supposed to be the last tram car and pulls it from the train, throwing it down a pit. Kong defeats the V-Rex and roars in triumph. Previously, the tour showed a large pond area with a small scale boat to show how the filming of the boat arriving to Skull Island was done.
Fast & Furious: Supercharged (2015)
Fast & Furious: Supercharged is located at the former site of the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb tunnel. This ride opened on June 25, 2015.
Nighttime Studio Tours (2015)
In celebration of Universal Studios Hollywood 50th anniversary, the Nighttime Studio Tour complements the popular daytime experience by offering a nighttime tour of the famous studio backlot.
The VIP Experience is the most exclusive way to go behind the scenes at the world’s largest movie studio and Theme Park. It’s the ultimate way to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. A unique personal tour for you and your group, covering all of the attractions of the theme park and a longer tour of the backlot with the opportunity to get off your small tram and take photos impossible to take on the main tour. There’s also an exclusive opportunity to look inside the Prop Warehouse, and subject to availability, you’ll visit a soundstage. Like the Studio Tour, the VIP Experience changes every day, depending on production work happening at the studio.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is a film studio and theme park in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County, California. It is one of the oldest and most famous Hollywood film studios still in use. It was initially created to offer tours of the real Universal Studios sets and is the first of many full-fledged Universal Studios Theme Parks located across the world.
The magic of movie-making comes to life at the park, which combines the quintessential Hollywood movie experience with frogtastic theme park attractions and shows. Exciting attractions include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
Universal Studios Hollywood is divided roughly in half between upper and lower lots. Outside the theme park, a new, all-digital facility near the Universal Pictures backlot was built in an effort to merge all of NBCUniversal’s West Coast operations into one area. In 2017, the park hosted 9.056 million guests, ranking it 15th in the world and 9th among North American parks.