There are plenty of film fests that cater to the elite and famous, ranging from Sundance’s art film extravaganzas to Toronto’s, where each fall’s Oscar contenders are often unveiled for the first time. But for the past nine years, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been providing average film buffs a chance to see the greatest classics in film history, fully restored and on the big screen with legendary stars and filmmakers, in Hollywood with the annual TCM Classic Film Festival.

This year’s edition kicked off hugely on Thursday with an opening night that featured a 50th anniversary screening of “The Producers” at the TCL Chinese Theatre featuring a rare appearance by Mel Brooks in a Q&A with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. The hilarious duo followed superstar Leonardo DiCaprio introducing Martin Scorsese while presenting him with the Robert Osborne Award for his efforts in film preservation.

But even that blockbuster combination marked just the start for a weekend in which dozens of films ranging from the car-race classic “Grand Prix” through “Once Upon a Time in the West” and a 20th anniversary screening of “The Big Lebowski” starring Jeff Bridges all come together. It’s cinematic heaven for anyone who loves movies, and Mankiewicz recounted its amazing growth in popularity.

“The first year we totaled showing about 50 movies, and without adding a single day we’re close to 90 movies now,” says Ben Mankiewicz, who along with late host Robert Osborne became famous as the on-air face of TCM, also known as the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. “We’ve added theaters and events. It’s gotten better, you can tell that from the way fans react to it, and the repeat business we get is amazing. It’s an opportunity to give back a little bit to all these fans who have made the network as strong as it’s been.”

Mankiewicz feels that TCM’s mix of classic films from across multiple decades and genres has led to a passionate response from its fans, and that no other channel on television inspires the same level of devotion from fans towards its hosts. The only comparison he can think of is the kind of response that’s become notorious between fans and actors at “Star Trek” conventions.

This year’s special events include a handprint ceremony in the Chinese Theatre’s courtyard for Oscar-winning actress Cicely Tyson prior to a screening of her 1972 classic “Sounder,” Dennis Miller introducing a screening of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and a closing night 40th anniversary cast reunion of “Animal House.”

This year’s theme is “Powerful Words: The Page Onscreen,” which celebrates the representation of the written word on the silver screen. The focus includes not only honoring great original screenplays and unique adaptations but portrayals of writers both real and imagined.

“The theme always runs throughout the festival but is not always tied to every film. Sometimes key anniversaries like ‘Animal House’ or a new restoration are spotlighted too,” says Charlie Tabesh, TCM’s Senior Vice President of Programming. “We do have a lot of films with writing tie-ins specifically: Shakespeare with ‘Romeo & Juliet’, Agatha Christie, hardboiled Hollywood, movies and based on poems.

“We’re paying tribute to James Ivory and Robert Benton, two great writers, and we have a panel on women screenwriters,” continues Tabesh. “We also edited a clip collection called ‘Crackin’ Wise,’ featuring great lines from B movies in mostly Republic films, films you may not know that have classic lines that was made by Paramount’s head archivist Andrea Kalas.”

Not to worry, film fans – while there are plenty of passes available online for the weekend, individual screenings have plenty of tickets too. Check schedules and order tickets at