When we head for the movies, the scent of popcorn, the iconic bags or buckets they come in, and the light crunch of your snack as the big screen starts to play are all entwined together. It’s hard to imagine a movie theater without popcorn, and when we think of popcorn, we inevitably also think of movies. It’s hard to imagine then that our beloved popcorn was not only expressly forbidden in movies, but also greatly disliked by theater owners.
The time before Popcorn
When movies first came out, audio was not available for them. Silent movies didn’t necessarily require a literate audience, since the body language and signs made by the actors carried most of the message, but it was who the theaters catered to. A movie theater was a rich place with plush carpets, crystal chandeliers, and exquisite marble fountains. It was an escape from every day life in location as much as the movie itself, and food and drink were specifically banned.
A few crafty street vendors understood the wants and desires of the guests long before the theaters did, and a few of them began selling popcorn right outside the theaters.
This (unsurprisingly) was a hit, but theaters didn’t see it that way. They instead asked their guests to check their popcorn in with their coats, preventing them from taking it into the theater. If you ever wondered what the first snack craftily sneaked into a theater was, you can guess it was probably popcorn.
“The Talkies” Change Everything
With the advent of movies with sound, the opportunity for snacks began to open up a little bit more. While most silent films at least had a piano playing for sound effects, it was often not enough to muffle the loud crunch of snacks in the movie theater. The constant sound offered by talking movies changed that. The opportunity for snacks was ripe, but movie theater owners were still reluctant to make the change.
Still, when the Great Depression struck, movie theaters were forced to choose between surviving and keeping to the old ways. Popcorn was a cheap snack nearly everyone could afford, and their popularity outside of the movie theaters must have gained the attention of the movie theaters. A few of them started allowing vendors the chance to pay for a license that would allow them to sell inside of the movie theaters—the first concession stands if you will.
The movie theaters that added popcorn saw their profits soar, and the ones who didn’t, disappeared.
The rest is history. Eventually owners realized that they didn’t need to bring in vendors to sell popcorn, and began putting in concession stands for themselves. Other snack items were brought in, and the theaters back then began to look very much like the theaters we have today.
It has now been decades since popcorn and the movies have joined in their odd little marriage, but it isn’t going to be changing any time soon. People enjoy popcorn with their movies all over the world, in hundreds of different countries.