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The history of movies: How did we get to today’s biggest hits?

We all know the great movie classics — Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music and The Godfather, among others. But the history of movies begins many years before these classics were even thought of and more than a century before the blockbusters of today. Movies today are made on a much larger scale, with more action, more explosions and more special effects. How did we get here from the silent black and white motion pictures of the early 1900s?

Travel through movie history, decade by decade

With each new technology, the movies we watch get bigger and better than ever. Check out the milestones that brought us to the movies we know and love today.

1890s to 1900s: The beginnings of film

The first motion pictures began with projectors. By 1907, there were around 4,000 cinemas across the United States to show off the new film medium.


Cinemas became extremely popular in the 1900s, and going to the movies is a favorite pastime today.

1910s: The first film stars

Actors initially were not identified for the roles they played in movies, but by 1910, this all changed. Actors became known for their parts in movies, giving rise to the first movie stars. G.M. Anderson became popular for his role as Broncho Billy. He opened the door to Tom Mix, the biggest Western star of the decade and beyond.

1920s: Sound in movies

In 1927, The Jazz Singer was a huge step for movies. Beyond its cultural and racial impacts, it was a stepping stone for the future of film. As a full-length “talkie,” The Jazz Singer pushed movies away from silent films and toward the sound-focused movies of today.

1930s: Technicolor, dialogue, huge film stars and animation

Shooting movies in Technicolor is a highlight of 1930s movie production. Both live-action footage and cartoons were produced using Technicolor, an early step from black and white entertainment to color movies and TV.

In the 1930s, movies began focusing much more on dialogue. The larger role of sound in movies gave more freedom to create different stories and genres.

More actors became recognized and famous, including Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable and Shirley Temple.

With Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Walt Disney released the first animated feature film. The success led to many more beloved Disney animations being released in the 1940s.

1950s and 1960s: Color movies and TV

By the 1950s, color televisions were gaining popularity. By the mid-1960s, almost all television shows were broadcast in color. Movie production companies also began filming in full color.

Disney continued releasing more animated features throughout the 1950s, including Cinderella and Sleepy Beauty. Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music were the big movie winners of the 1960s.

1970s: The decade of the movie director

In the 1970s, the big names in movies were the directors creating them. Some of the most popular and successful directors of the 1970s include George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

1980s: VHS players

With the growing popularity of the VHS came the ability to watch movies at home on your own time. Sequels became popular, as well.


With the rise of the DVD, VHS has lost relevance, and movies are no longer released on VHS.

2010s: 3D and blockbuster hits

Today, movies are judged by how well they do in the box office, and the newest big thing is 3D filming. Movies are filled with special effects and filmed in 3D or IMAX for an impressive look on the big screen.

Some of the most recent hits and box office winners include The Social Network, Inception, The Avengers, Bridesmaids, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. These films are marked by huge openings and million dollar earnings.

What’s next for movies? More 3D? Larger-scale projects? The possibilities are endless.