Forget the Oscars, here's the Hollywood Movie Studio Tour Awards


Once again it's time for the annual Academy Awards ceremony: 3-plus hours of preening, ponderous pomp, predictable winners and Trump-bashing galore. Snore. What cinephiles visiting Los Angeles really want to see is behind-the-scenes, silver-screen magic. And if they're lucky, a real-life celebrity sighting on the side. We're happy to oblige by presenting the Hollywood Movie Studio Tour Awards. And the winners are:

Warner Bros VIP Studio Tour: Best choice for Batman and Gilmore Girls geeks

In Oscar favorite La La Land, Emma Stone's character works in a fictional coffeehouse on Burbank's landmark studio lot. She's enchanted by Warners' rich celluloid history and you will be, too, for a $65 pittance. Outrageous? Perhaps, but for serious movie and TV buffs, the 3-hour combination golf cart/walking experience led by enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides, is worth the steep price.

Cruising the studio's sprawling backlot you'll see the false fronts of New York Street, a backdrop for 1940s gangster pictures, the Batman flicks and much more. Fans of TV's Gilmore Girls squeal with delight as the tour rolls onto Midwest Street—a collection of "Anytown, USA" building facades they'll recognize as the show's Stars Hollow setting. You've also seen it in big-screen classics like The Music Man and Bonnie and Clyde.

Tours usually drop by one of the massive front-lot soundstages to wander around sets for a current TV hit like The Big Bang Theory. If you're a Harry Potter or Batman dork, prepare to drool over museum exhibits packed with original costumes, props and Batmobiles. The fun "Stage 48" exhibit is an interactive journey through the filmmaking process and wraps with a photo-op on the old Central Perk coffeehouse set from Friends. Bonus selfie points if 2017 still finds you sporting 'The Rachel' cut.

Author's bona fide celebrity sighting: A bored-looking Martin Sheen pedaling a bicycle between soundstages.

Paramount Pictures Studio Tour: Best chance of seeing Dr. Phil act like the heartless jerk he is

The only major Hollywood studio located in Hollywood proper, the Paramount lot is where Dr. Phil berates his dim-witted guests, Julia Louis-Dreyfus shoots Veep and silver-screen classics ranging from Sunset Boulevard to The Godfather were filmed.

Aboard oversize golf carts, 2-hour, small-group tours motor around the historic lot, stopping to explore indoor sets for current TV shows (NCIS: Los Angeles films at Paramount) as well as the faux brownstones of the outdoor New York Street set. You'll also swing by the prop department, which displays original gadgets from Star Trek, Transformers and more. The basic tour costs $55. Pricier "VIP" and "After Dark" options are also available.

Author's bona fide celebrity sighting: Faded CHiPs star Erik Estrada milling about the New York Street set. Does he count as a celeb? I vote affirmative for Officer Poncharello.

Sony Pictures Studio Tour: Best target for a North Korean cyber hack

In Hollywood's Golden Age, the letters MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) represented the mightiest studio in the movie business. Situated in the glamour-less West L.A. suburb of Culver City, the Sony corporation now runs the MGM lot. And its 2-hour walking tours explore a property that in the late 1930s was home to The Wizard of Oz production. A soaring rainbow sculpture arching over the lot gives a nod to its Emerald City past.

Follow the figurative Yellow Brick Road to sets for Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and scripted TV shows like The Goldbergs. Outdoor exhibits include the Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 ambulance/hearse and the Breaking Bad meth lab RV. The $45 admission is the cheapest of the studio tours and it's a solid choice if you're staying in the nearby Santa Monica area.

Author's bona fide celebrity sighting: Screenwriter/director Cameron Crowe sliding behind the wheel of a seriously expensive sports car.

Universal Studios Hollywood: Best tour for kiddies

Tours of the Universal lot are nearly as old as the studio itself. As early as 1915, studio boss Carl Laemmle charged the public 25-cents for a box lunch and a bleacher seat to watch silent film stars at work.

Today it's a full-blown movie theme park with thrill rides and headache-triggering CGI nightmares. Yet at its core Universal maintains a genuine studio tour, albeit one peppered with special effects razzle-dazzle. On the tram ride, not only do you see the creepy Psycho house and 'Courthouse Square' set (Back to the Future), you're menaced by Jaws and King Kong.

Got little "Potterheads" in tow? Universal's outstanding Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction area is a crowd-pleaser. Sans discount (check for coupons on-line and in tourist magazines), general Universal admission runs $115. Ouch! But think of it this way. You're paying for a portion of Tom Cruise's catered lunch. And Scientology superheroes need fuel.

Author's bona fide celebrity sighting: D-List celebrity and Extra host Mario Lopez interviewing an F-List celebrity (I forget who) at the Universal CityWalk mall. As Trump would tweet: "Sad!"



Eli Ellison is a Southern California-based travel writer. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times and TravelChannel.com. His favorite movie of all time is The Wild Bunch (1969), filmed in Mexico, not Hollywood.