The History of Having Popcorn at the Movies

One of the most common pastimes in America is going to the movies. And what better to enjoy at the movies than a delicious container of buttery popcorn. Popcorn has become so intimately connected to movie theaters that the very thought of going to the movies evokes thoughts of popcorn. The question now is, how and why did popcorn become the movie theater delicacy of choice? 

The Earliest Movie Theaters

As crazy as it might seem now, originally movie theatres did not sell popcorn. Rather, movie theaters detested the thought of selling popcorn. When movie theaters were just beginning, they attempted to market themselves to the public as being the newest form of the theater. Real theaters would never associate themselves with noisy, messy food like popcorn and so movie theaters would not either. Movies at this time were silent films therefore people at the theatres had to be literate to be able to understand the movie. The silent films were another reason why movie theaters forewent popcorn originally as people believed that the sound of patrons munching on popcorn would ruin the ambiance of the movie and create a big mess.

When Everything Changed

In 1927, The Jazz Singer, was the first movie with sound released to the public. With the release of “talkies” as movies with sound were called at the time, movies moved away from their sophisticated audience to the much broader, general American audience that we know today. Now, everyone could understand and enjoy the entertainment that movies provided. The release of “talkies” happened to coincide with the Great Depression, and movies were a cheap form of entertainment that could distract them from the problems that citizens were facing. Since many movie theaters were not equipped to make popcorn, or simply did not want to, street vendors set up shop outside, selling popcorn to movie patrons at five to ten cents a bag. Eventually movie theaters realized that their patrons wanted to have popcorn during the movies, and they cut out the street vendors entirely and sold popcorn themselves.

World War II

The second World War was what cemented the relationship between popcorn and movie theaters in America. During the war, America suffered a sugar shortage as the countries where America traditionally imported sugar from were cut off. The only sugar that was available was either heavily rationed or sent to the American troops fighting in the war. Due to the lack of sugar, movie theaters could no longer sell competing snacks such as soda and candy. What was not in short supply however was salt and popcorn kernels. By the end of the war, popcorn and the movie theaters were irreversibly tied together with over half of all popcorn eaten in America being eaten in theaters.

After World War II, the rest is history. While popcorn has not always been connected to movie theaters, for decades now a movie theater would not be considered complete without people having a bag of popcorn.