This article outlines the history of the Universal Studios studio tour in its initial opening years, from 1963 until 1968 – a period that proved pivotal for the reinvented success of Universal. This is the era of history in which tourism and cinema were first firmly linked; indeed, in which Universal learned how to control a film tourist gaze for immediate commercial benefit. The article analyses the audience reception of the Universal themed experience through a close analysis of print media reviews of the tours of this era. This discourse analysis approach reviews the media reception of the initial studio tours in order to draw out the wider cultural significance of the tour. The rise of studio tourism at Universal (and more widely in Hollywood) shows that film tourism has been a sustainable component for at least one major film studio, which problematises current research on film tourism as being a contemporary trend. However, in this analysis of this historical moment in the emergence of the film studio tour we can also see its limitations – through an inability to show stars and celebrities, and the limited life of novelty experiences, the theme park moves towards more enhanced special effects and animatronic experiences. Ultimately, the appearance of film tourism in 1960s Los Angeles – in tandem with the broader rise of post-war mass tourism in the United States – helped to combine tourism with film viewing as commercial consumption and hence moved beyond older forms of film spectatorship. Arguably, this new economic strategy contributed to the rise of blockbuster cinema in the 1970s, a genre that is well known for providing spectacular virtual ‘rides’ alongside other streamlined entertainments and attractions. This analysis of Universal in the 1960s shows the fledgling theme park in a state of constant evolution.