Film Exhibition

Film exhibition, or the act of showing a film, has changed drastically over time in the United States. It began after the fall of the Edison trust and the Motion Picture Patents Company. With these institutions out of the way, theater were then allowed to expand on

cordelia 1
 Projection room from a theater in Alabama, 1933

their own. This expansion began with the 1910’s with movie theaters known as “nickelodeons”, named after the charge to get in, a nickel (Campell et al., 2017)(Thomas, 1961). These theaters, such as the little theater opened by Henry Davis and John P. Harris in 1905, originally showed short films like The Great Train Robbery (Allen, 1979).

These theaters would evolve over time to become movie palaces in the 1920s. Movie palaces were large, elaborately decorated movie theaters, and they lasted for about thirty years, only to change again into the ever-popular drive in theaters in the 1950s.

Drive in theaters, on their most simple level, were outdoor theaters that allowed moviegoers to literally drive up to the screen to watch the movie that was being exhibited. This new structure of theater allowed people who could not attend previous movie theaters to watch film. Those who could not previously attend included those with physical disabilities or who lacked the social class to attend theaters (Taylor, 1948). This popular theater format would last for approximately twenty years, cordelia 2and eventually change again into grindhouses in the 1970s. These new theaters focused mainly on exhibiting exploitation films, and would not last very long. Today, we mostly have mall theaters (began around 1980s) and megaplexes (1990s to mid 2000’s). AMC is one of the largest megaplex chains in the united states (Lieberman, 2016).


Allen, R. (1979). Motion Picture Exhibition in Manhattan 1906-1912: Beyond the Nickelodeon. Cinema Journal, 18(2), 2-15. doi:10.2307/1225438

Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B (2017). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a  Digital Age 11th Edition. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Lieberman, D. (2016, August 31). AMC Theaters Plans Switch To Reserved Seating At All Manhattan Venues. Retrieved from

Taylor S. H., “The Drive-In Theater,” in Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 337-343, April 1948.doi: 10.5594/J11779

Thomas, J. (1971). The Decay of the Motion Picture Patents Company. Cinema Journal, 10(2), 34-40. doi:10.2307/1225236

Image attribution: Image 1 public domain, Image 2 CC BY-SA 4.0; The Great Train Robbery public domain

Written by Cordelia Faass, 2018


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