(Module 3) How We Watch Films … the Audience is the Future (a film viewing history)

The audience has always had an impact on filmmakers. This historical timeline of audience impact (and interaction) on cinema will offer a closer look. 

  • 1896 – In New Orleans the first theatre used primarily for cinema was dubbed as theauditorium_theatre_in_toronto “picture house”. Until 1927 Early cinema was silent, and theatres would have a live pianist (and sometimes a massive pipe organ, orchestras or bands) to perform and provide the soundtrack.
  • 1902 – Los Angeles became the home for the first permanent movie house.
  • 1907 – Nickelodeon theatres were established where patrons could pay 5 cents (or a nickel) to watch short films in a projection viewing box. Several “viewing boxes” were set up side by side, much like video arcade game halls that were established in malls during the 1970s-1990s.
  • 1913 – The Movie Palaces became established with seating for large capacity 12479559_659488477524449_2079816122_naudiences. New York’s Regent Theater at that time could seat 1,800 patrons.
  • 1917 – The first air-conditioned movie theatre was built in Chicago.
  • 1925 –On May 14, popcorn was first served to theatre patrons (but was sold outside from a mobile cart).
  • 1927 – The first film was released with synchronized sound (The Jazz Singer) changing the industry (and the way films were exhibited).
  • 1933 – June 6, the first drive-in theatre was built in Camden, New Jersey.
  • 1935 –Concessions began being sold inside of theatres.
  • 1937 – The first feature-length animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released in theaters. It went on to win an Oscar for innovation in filmmaking.
  • 1939 – Two films, “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” offers audiences a wizard_of_oz_movie_posternew tase of cinema with brilliant and eye-popping live-action “color.” Prior to this, most films were shot in black and white.
  • 1948 – Most Americans watched over 25 films per year in theatres.
  • 1950s – Television began to impact theatres’ box=office finances as many Americans stayed home to embrace the new medium of TV.
  • 1952-‘54 – The first major 3D (The Golden Age of 3D) craze began to take over filmmaking to attract new audiences (in many ways to compete with TV). This brought the images off the screen and into the laps of viewers.
  • 1950s-60s – The Drive-in Theatres reached nearly as many audiences during non-winter months as did traditional movie theatres. Drive-Ins also offered laundry mats, mini-golf drive-in-theater-inkbluesky
    courses, full restaurants and a wonderful place for teens to show off their cars. The Drive-Ins became a place for a family night out, and a make-out spot as well.
  • 1960 – Smell-o-vision & AromaRama began to be companion gimmicks for 3D filmmaking. Now, not only could audiences see what was coming at them with 3D glasses, but devices were now in place to allow the crowds to smell what was happening in the scenes as well.
  • 1963 – Shopping malls were being developed, and it became a place for captive 07_tacoma-mall-theatreaudiences. It only made sense to build theatres near (or in) these locations. the first duplex (two-screens) theatre was established during this time with 700 total seats.
  • 1970 – The first IMAX film (Tiger Child) was released in Osaka, Japan on March 15.
  • 1972 –The HBO (Home Box-Office) network was established (cable TV) to offer movies to audiences in their own homes after the theatrical run was complete; this would eventually impact audiences and theatre box-office $$$.
  • 1973 – The Movie Channel paid network was established (cable TV) as competition for HBO.
  • 1974 – Multiplex cinemas began to expand, and Atlanta became the home to the first eight-plex (eight different films in one location). In the next few years, multi-plex offerings began to expand to meet the desires of the movie-going public. As many as 60 screens were available at some locations (many screens showed the same films).
  • 1975 – Earl Owensby (of Shelby, N.C.) stumbled onto the international market in films and made millions. It would take Hollywood years to embrace his marketing strategy.
  • 1975 –The first blockbuster film “Jaws” was released on June 20 in 464 screens. Jaws was the first film to launch in major distribution in several cities (on the same day).
  • 1976 – The Showtime paid network was established (cable TV) to compete with HBO and the Movie Channel.
  • 1980 – HBO, Showtime & the Movie Channel began making an impact on box-office receipts. These networks allowed viewers to watch films just a short time after the theatrical run had wrapped.
  • 1982 – Although created as prototypes in the late 1950s, Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs) were now being heavily marketed. It would be another three years before most Americans could afford the devices.chain_gang_1984_poster
  • 1982 Earl Owensby Studios began producing 3D films for the 2nd major wave of 3D filmmaking. This “3D Renaissance Period” was a direct result of a filmmaker finding unique way to get people back into theatres for what Earl called “the gimmick experience that is filmmaking.” This launched a new phase of 3D films from major studios. Owensby went on to create six 3D films, the most by any studio during that time.
  • 1985 Blockbuster video store was established offering audiences hundreds of films on videotape (in various genres) at one convenient location.
  • 1985 – Pay-per-view and on-demand films started to become available through cable companies & satellite providers.
  • 1997 – In March, the first consumer DVD players and discs were available to the public in the US for prices the consumers were willing to play.
  • 1997 Netflix (a dvd by mail service) launched and eventually put Blockbuster Video (and most other video stores) out of business.18kwjw9ujtsf3jpg
  • 1998 – Stadium seating and retractable armrests became commonplace for most theatres.
  • 1998 – Digital projection began to become established in theatres. Filmmakers also begin to work on creating movies by using digital-tape and digital editing technology. This would mean theatres would have to transition from showing 35 mm film prints to showing future digital-based releases. Major film studios assisted theatres financially in this transition.
  • 2000s – Digital movie downloads began being offered to consumers.718379603
  • 2002 Redbox (video store in a box) launched with McDonald’s Ventures. in 2018, Redbox had over 55,000 locations listed nationwide.
  • 2003 –DVD sales and rentals topped VHS sales/rentals.
  • 2003 – 3D Films (The Digital Age) was launched with the help of Oscar-winning director/producer James Cameron. With digital technology, and new conversion techniques, the digital age of 3D filmmaking was established. Today, the 3D market finds most of its success in the international market.
  • 2004– Nearly 2/3 of Americans had a DVD player.
  • 2005 –HDTV Began to be TV format of choice (2005 Consumers began to afford prices).
  • 2006 – Blu-Ray format introduced.1d6cd5744c18892857aa79729717_content
  • 2007 –Streaming services began to be offered by Netflix (with Apple to follow).
  • 2008-2012The International box office began surpassing the US as the dominant money making film distribution market.
  • 2012 – Online ticket sales for movie-goers began to explode as Fandango parters with YahooMovies reaching 30 million registered users.
  • 2014 – Blockbuster video closed its last remaining mega-store in January, thanks to the likes of Netflix and Redbox competition.
  • 2016 – AMC Theaters began remodeling many of its’ theaters by adding recliners, and a full-line of meals and self-service concessions to help customers to feel “at home” during the cinema experience.
  • 2017 – IMAX began scaling back on the 3D films it offers to USA patrons. IMAX discovered that most (outside of China, Russia, and India) prefer standard screen experiences without having to wear glasses to view the screen.
  • 2017Moviepass.com launched a $9.95 per month movie ticket service allowing audiences the opportunity to see up to 31 films a month at movie theaters across the country, bringing in millions of subscribers. This brought many people back to theaters who rarely went (because of price).
  • 2018 – Moviepass struggled with financially difficult model, and poor customer service, yet it’s “subscriber-based” model inspired the launch of products like the AMC The A-List.
  • 2020 – Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, theatres across the country had to close (for extended periods of time), and distributors had to connect with audiences where they were … at home. Several releases originally scheduled for wide-spread theatrical releases were adapted to exclusive home releases (Mulan) or hybrid releases (Wonder Woman: 1984). Warner Brothers announced a partnership distribution model for all of its’ 2021 films with HBO Max. Drive-in theatres made a comeback.

N.T. Manning II – 1.19.21



Anderson, John (March 26, 2009). 3-D not an alien concept in Hollywood. Newsday. Retrieved April 4, 2009.

Glatzer, R. (2001). Beyond popcorn: A critic’s guide to looking at films. Spokane, WA: Eastern Washington University Press.

History of the Movie Theater timeline | Timetoast timelines. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/history-of-the-movie-theater

Hooton, C. (2017, July 17). IMAX to show less movies in 3D as it realises cinema-goers don’t want it | The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/imax-3d-2d-dunkirk-blade-runner-2049-less-showings-a7862726.html

Katz, P. (2005, August 5). The history of movie houses | EW.com. Retrieved from http://www.ew.com/article/2005/08/05/history-movie-houses

Manning II, N. T. (2020, September 9). Why the audience matters [lecture notes].

Movie Theater History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.kidzworld.com/article/6744-movie-theater-history

Movie timeline. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0150210.html

Null, C. (2013). Five stars!: How to become a film critic, the world’s greatest job (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Sutro.

Owensby, E. E. (1997, November 10). Earl Owensby: The man, the myth [Television series episode]. Interview by N. T. Manning. Shelby, NC.

3 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s