Movie-going has been an American pastime since the early 20th century. Since 1945 we have seen Hollywood rise to its apex, dominating movie theaters across the globe with its massive productions. It was not always this way, though. Below are 10 facts about the evolution of the American film industry after the Second World War.
- After WWII, Americans acquired more leisure time and a greater range of activities. Hollywood faced increased competition from other activities, from amusement parks to golf outings and weekend road trips. The biggest threat, however, came from television’s growing popularity during the 1950s.
- The Supreme Court’s Paramount Decision of 1948 forced studios to divest from owning theaters and outlawed block-booking, the practice of forcing theaters to buy groups of films in order to book the most desirable films. Hollywood’s business strategy dramatically shifted from a focus on owning the premier downtown theaters to further controlling the channels of distribution.
- While fortifying their distribution power, studios devised several strategies to drive attendance. Color film, occasionally used for major features in the 1930s and 1940s, was used in 50% of films by the mid-1950s, a visible alternative to the black-and-white television image.
- Hollywood’s financial disaster during the 1960s helped sustain one of its most celebrated periods of artistic achievement, the Hollywood Renaissance. Beginning with innovative films The Graduate (1969), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Easy Rider (1969), inexpensive pictures that became runaway hits, Hollywood studios acknowledged both the growing importance and their growing unfamiliarity with the teenage and twenty-something audience that proved to be the most reliable moviegoers of this period.
- The construction of multiplexes, usually adjacent to suburban shopping malls, boomed throughout the 1970s, creating venues convenient to the core suburban youth audience and allowing top films to occupy multiple screens per theater.
- Landmark hits like Jaws helped establish a new dominant strategy for Hollywood studios. They began targeting Christmas and summer for their top releases, advertised extensively on television, and booked top films on an increasing number of American screens.
- More than anyone else, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg helped define the blockbuster aesthetic of the 1980s and early 1990s, collaborating on Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, while Lucas’ Star Wars sequels were each top hits and Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) earned over $350 million, as did Jurassic Park (1993). All of these projects were “high concept,” relied heavily on special effects, featured male protagonists, and exploited ancillary markets from toys to soundtracks and video games.
- Hollywood began producing more films with action-filled plots because they translated well for global audiences, whose importance greatly increased by the early 1990s, when foreign profits surged ahead of domestic profits. A growing reliance on the foreign box office further increased marketing and production costs and reinforced Hollywood’s high-concept approach.
- Rising costs and potential profits drove a new wave of conglomeration, this time led by media firms rather than more diversified corporations. Unlike the conglomerates of the 1970s, these media companies found “synergy” between Hollywood films and print media, cable networks, home video, television series, recorded music, and even amusement parks. These firms could exploit hit films such as the Indiana Jones franchise across various media all under the same corporate umbrella.
- The media conglomerates that owned the Hollywood studios grew further integrated by the early 2000s, resulting in the handful of conglomerates that now control the vast majority of the film and television industry known as the “Big Six”: 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures & Walt Disney Pictures.
Featured image: “Movie Reel Projector Film Cinema Entertainment” by Free-Photos. CC0 via Pixabay.