The history of film is quite long, but here’s a *brief* history of the film industry and where it is now
We all love movies, that’s no secret. What better way to kill some time than to watch a gut-busting comedy movie, a romantic comedy where you don’t know if you want to laugh or cry or a horror movie so frightening you can’t sleep for days! Movies were not always what we know them to be now; we had to go through many years of experimenting, technological changes and a lot of creativity for us to watch movies as we know them now. Here is a brief history of how film became a multibillion-dollar industry.
To get to where we are now in the film industry, we have to take a look at the very beginning when films just came to fruition. According to the Science and Media Museum, there’s no sole creator that can be credited to the invention of film. However, in 1891, American inventor Thomas Edison under his company “The Edison Company” presented the prototype of the Kinetoscope. This invention allowed people to see moving images, but it was only enough for one person to view at a time. After two years, the Kinetoscope was sold commercially and was a huge hit. In that same year, Edison had a one-minute movie that worked with his Kinetoscope: a comedy called The Boxing Cat. This very short film is thought to be the very first filmed comedy, and it displays images of two cats in a boxing ring.
It was only a year later, in 1895, when the Lumiere brothers presented a “movie” or a series of moving pictures to a paying audience. The brothers, however, didn’t use Edison’s Kinetoscope, seeing as it was for only one person, so they used their own invention called the Cinematographe: a camera, projector and film picture all in one machine.
“Silent movies” were very popular at this time, and contrary to popular belief, silent movies were actually not silent at all. They were usually accompanied by some sort of music or lecture on the side, but they were not completely silent. Films were typically short in length and were shown in large dark areas.
In the 1900s, movies would become a very popular pastime, being shown at places like amusement parks, music halls, wax museums and other main attractions for people to enjoy. 1902 was when Thomas Tally’s, one of the earliest movie houses designed for showing motion pictures, was created in Los Angeles.
It’s no shock that Los Angeles has been the pioneer for much of the film, television and entertainment industry over the years, being one of the main hotspots for entertainment. 1903 was when Los Angeles was incorporated into a municipality or a town that had corporate status. Then four years later, in 1907, the first filmmakers made their way to the city, and they liked the area for filmmaking because of the climate and the scenery it had. L.A. became a film hub, and in 1910, film companies started to move to the area that we now know as Hollywood. Frankenstein, a movie that we all know about an experiment gone wrong, was directed by J. Searle Dawley. In 1915, one of the most controversial movies in history, Birth of a Nation, was released to the public. Despite its controversy, this film was the first blockbuster movie and broke boundaries because of its technological advancements.
The 1930s was a huge transformation for the film industry. Musicals, gangster films, westerns, comedies, and horror movies were huge in this decade. This decade is referred to as “The Golden Age of Hollywood” by filmmakers in the industry because of the many changes the film industry was going through. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, King Kong, Cleopatra, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with The Wind were all popular in the 1930s. The film industry in the 1930s was also the rise of household names such as Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson. The movies in the years prior and well past this decade featured very few people of color, unless they were used as caricatures and examples of racial stereotypes. It wasn’t until 1940 when Black actress Hatte McDaniel got recognized for her work and received an Oscar for her role in Gone with The Wind as Mammy, a racist depiction of black women.
The 1940s saw a lot of animated films throughout the decade, beginning with Disney classics Pinocchio and Fantasia. These weren’t the first animated Disney productions released, but they were extremely popular animated films. The film industry in the 1940s was dominated by eight movie studios: Warner Brothers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, RKO Radio, Twentieth Century Fox, United Artists, Paramount, Universal and Columbia. These major film companies were producing at least one movie per week, which meant, at minimum, there were eight movies for moviegoers to view each week. Beauty and the Beast, The Grapes of Wrath and It’s a Wonderful Life were all hits in the film industry of the 1940s.
Although the 1940s was a great decade for major film companies, the 1950s proved a different fate for the beloved movie companies. MGM, Paramount, Warner Brothers and RKO saw some very tough times in this decade; therefore, they had to go through some significant changes, and some of them were able to stay afloat except for RKO. The rise of television was responsible for the decline of movies and movie companies. TV shows like I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone and The Lone Ranger had people watching more TV than ever before. There were also strict rules on what topics could and could not be allowed, and in 1951 the Motion Pictures Production Code made abortions and narcotics “illegal” in films. Movies such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Godzilla, and The Barefoot Contessa were all hits of the 1950s.
The television industry and the film industry were going head-to-head in the 60s in terms of popularity. Still, unfortunately for the movie industry, the television industry was keeping film at the bottom. Movie companies struggled to grasp the general population’s attention because TV was capturing viewers’ attention for the past ten years. Movie companies eventually had to develop strategies to get people to watch movies again, so they turned to taboo topics such as sex and violence to grab the audience’s attention. This strategy proved to be controversial to the public. Bonnie and Clyde, Spartacus, and Mary Poppins were hits of the 1960s.
While sex and violence in movies were once controversial in the previous decade, the 1970s embraced the movement and was actually good for movie companies. The idea of sex and violence was captivating to audiences in this decade because the concept of seeing sex and violence on the big screen was something different than the family-oriented themes that TV shows were producing. The 70s was also the decade that movie-goers were starting to see special effects used, as demonstrated with movies like Jaws and Star Wars. Filmmakers used special effects to present stories from a different and more action-packed perspective. The 70s was also the decade where people put Black talent on screen in a significant way. Shaft was one of the biggest all-black films in the 70s, but black actors were also put in white films as ordinary people and not caricatures. Shaft also allowed Isaac Hayes to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first African American to win an Oscar in a non-acting category.
Trends always come and go, and with movies, it’s no different. Horror and comedy were the two biggest genres in the 80s. The 80s saw the rise of many comedians such as Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. These three figures became very prominent household names in the 80s and the years beyond. This decade saw some of the most iconic movies that we’ve ever known with some of the most memorable characters, fashion, slang and phrases. The 80s was also the big boom of teen films, and although they’d been around for many years, teen films saw a massive growth in popularity. Personally, some of my favorite movies come from the 1980s.
1980S HONORABLE MENTIONS
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
- Beetlejuice (1988)
- Back to the Future (1985)
- Ghostbusters (1984)
- Dirty Dancing (1987)
- Coming to America (1988)
- Heathers (1988)
- The Breakfast Club (1985)
- Footloose (1984)
- Poltergeist (1982)
- Pretty in Pink (1986)
The 90s is the decade that people just can’t let go, and honestly, for pretty good reasons. The 90s is arguably the best decade for tv shows, movies, music, slang, fashion, pop culture moments and talent. The upbeat styles and attitudes of the 90s paired with its technology advancements make the 90s a decade that no one will ever be able to shake. The decade that gave us movies like 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That and B.A.P.S. changed the film industry altogether. There was a huge market for Black movies, teen movies, movies about romance and comedies. Special effects continued to dominate the film industry in the 90s just as they did 20 years prior.
Since the 90s was such a great time for movies, here are some movies that you should watch for some heavy 90s nostalgia.
1990S HONORABLE MENTIONS
- Romeo + Juliet (1996)
- Titanic (1997)
- Friday (1995)
- Clueless (1995)
- A Bronx Tale (1993)
- Poetic Justice (1993)
After such a well-loved decade like the 90s, the 2000s surely couldn’t fall short of what the 90s was. While the 2000s wasn’t as memorable as the 90s, it had its great moments, and after the panic Y2K, when everyone thought life was over as they knew it, the entertainment industry kept up its momentum. The birth of the internet in the 90s made way for huge advancements in the years after; however, only 3% of Americans had broadband internet, which made downloading files super complicated.
The film industry was also dominated by six entertainment companies, a slight decrease since the 1940s. Time Warner, Viacom, Fox, Sony, NBC Universal and Disney all had their hands in the movie-making pot.
2000S HONORABLE MENTIONS
- Mean Girls (2004)
- The Notebook (2004)
- The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
- Love and Basketball (2000)
- Legally Blonde (2001)
So far, we’ve covered 13 decades of movies and the changes in the film industry. Since the late 1800s all the way to the 2000s, we’ve seen technology, genres and a lot more change in the industry. With the start of a new decade in 2010, the film industry would go through another major change, seeing things that would literally change films and filmmaking as a whole.
The 2010s would see streaming services such as Netflix, the rise of CGI, greater diversity between actors and actresses, female-led roles, the decline of DVDs and many other groundbreaking trends in the movie industry.
CGI or Computer-Generated Imagery became very popular during the 2010s and changed movies forever. We went from seeing actual people on actual movie sets to seeing computer-generated people on screen, taking the place of some real actors. The CGI isn’t new at all, actually dating back to the 1960s when creators were playing around with the technology, and the first evidence of CGI is in the movie Westworld. CGI doesn’t just replace actual people, but it can add other aspects to a film like buildings, animals and nature.
CGI HONORABLE MENTIONS
- War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
- The Jungle Book (2016)
- Avengers: End Game (2019)
- I, Robot (2004)
The 2020s are just getting started, so who knows where the film industry will go by 2030. COVID-19 has already changed almost every aspect of our lives this far, and it will probably change the film industry as well. Will the quality of movies go down, will it go up, or will it remain the same? What is your favorite decade of the film industry?