Why Do We Eat Popcorn During a Movie?

By looking into the history of cinematic productions and the film industry, one can trace the rise of popcorn's popularity, and the eventual marriage between popcorn and the movies.

Why Do We Eat Popcorn During a Movie?

Popcorn and movies go hand in hand, ever since the beginning of the theater world. It seems like it has always been this way, since the start of the cinematic world. So many of us blindly accept this that we may forget that it was not always this way.

Popcorn has been served for decades with movies, but most people do not know why. By looking into the history of cinematic productions and the film industry, one can trace the rise of popcorn's popularity, and the eventual marriage between popcorn and the movies.

Popcorn

Corn as we understand it today is the product of both maize, a natural plant that had been cultivated for thousands of years, and advanced botany skills that bred only the tastiest maize into what we now understand as corn.

But popcorn is just a strain of corn. Starchy. Able to burst under heat. It was produced in Central America, then spread northward. Early Americans found popcorn fascinating primarily because they thought it was cool how the corn popped.

By 1848, it became a cultural snack staple, included in Almanacs and snack guidebooks.

Popcorn and Entertainment

The first instance of popcorn becoming intertwined with entertainment was when the circuses started selling popcorn to attract customers. As if the dancing elephants and gymnastics weren't enough.

But, more than that, circus owners realized that they could double their profits if they sold audiences tickets and a snack for the show, which, naturally, led to profits increasing.

Of course, this isn't the first instance of an audience snacking while watching a show. Many of Shakespeare's audience members popped dried garlic into their mouth while watching his shows. But, by riding the wave of popcorn's popularity, circus owners established an important precedent: snacks and a show. Intertwined.

Rise of the Movies... And their Hatred of Popcorn

When movie theaters hit the scene, theater owners wanted to establish that cinematic productions were just as good as theater productions. For many years, theaters had carpets, stages, curtains--they were classy places. Until 1927, when the talkies rose to prominence, movie theaters replicated auditoriums.

And the owners hated popcorn.

Popcorn was commoner food reserved for low-class entertainment like freak shows and circuses. Classy European theaters did not serve commoner's food, and, therefore, neither would the movie theaters.

It wasn't until the mass consumerism of the talkie era that movie theaters became less super-classy theaters. No longer did you need a live orchestra to create the sound track for the movies. Theaters became cheaper to make.

And, thus, more theaters opened up.

The Great Depression

Around the same time, America hit the Great Depression. The theater, up until now regarded as a classy place, became a luxury. Even as new, less expensive theaters opened up, the theater remained a place of luxury.

And popcorn became a small luxury.

Cheaper institutions took note of this, and served popcorn along with their theater. Some theaters were hesitant to serve popcorn because they felt the popcorn would somehow interrupt the sound of the movie... but they found that, by raising the volume of their film, they could eclipse the popping sound.

For ten cents, popcorn became an affordable luxury that the poor people stricken by the Depression could enjoy.

At first, popcorn venders would simply sell the popcorn in the theater lobby, but theater owners decided to buy machines to produce popcorn themselves. Because early theaters couldn't filter out the air, the scent of popcorn became intertwined with the movie going experience.

But other snacks were also sold for awhile... until WWII, where sugar products were rationed. Popcorn became the snack to have at the movies.

By 1945, half of the popcorn eaten in America came from the movies.

fact or fictionpop culture
Anthony Gramuglia
Anthony Gramuglia
Read next: Easy, Cheating Prawn and Cream Cheese Risotto
Anthony Gramuglia

Obsessive writer fueled by espresso and drive. Into speculative fiction, old books, and long walks. Follow me at twitter.com/AGramuglia

See all posts by Anthony Gramuglia