The way that we watch movies has changed so much over the past century, that what we experience today is basically unrecognizable from the past. What used to be only accessible in theaters and special buildings, now we have access to thousands of films at any given time with a computer and internet connection.
So what are the biggest steps forward in film viewing history? That’s a great question, and it’s one not easily answered. Because things are so drastically different today than they were in the past, it’s hard to pinpoint those exact developments. Not to be deterred, I’ve done the research, and I think that these are the 5 biggest changes in the movie universe since moving pictures were invented.
Speaking of which…
1894: First Projector Invented
A guy named Charles Francis Jenkins invented a thing called the Phantoscope, a type of projector that allowed him to show moving pictures on his walls. This invention allowed images to be stitched together in a way that made the films smoother than previous attempts. Basically, we have Mr. Jenkins to thank for getting the movie ball rolling.
1915: The First Feature Length Movie
A reasonably short 20 years after the concept of moving pictures was realized, someone made a real movie called Birth of a Nation. Up until this movie came out, most films were short affairs, and there wasn’t much of a story behind them. Birth of a Nation changed all of that. To the modern viewer, Birth of a Nation is racist, historically inaccurate, and potentially bad for our society, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t notable.
1948: Uncle Sam Breaks Up the Monopolies
Up until 1948, films were produced and distributed in what’s called a vertically integrated manner. That means that film studios owned the movie from the script to the popcorn. Production studios would make the movie, print it, send it to their own proprietary movie theaters, and reap all of the rewards. The government thought that made them a bit too monopolistic, so it broke up the process. Now, movie theaters are separate from the film companies, leading to a more competitive media environment.
1972: First VHS Tape Released
The thing about movies up until 1972 was that someone else dictated where and when you could watch them. You either had to go to the movie theater or wait for the film to show on TV. That was a major bummer, so production studios decided to do something revolutionary: they released films on VHS. The technology that also brought home movies to the masses, VHS tapes put the viewer in charge of their media consumption. It freed each and every household to decide what to watch and when to watch it. I’m saluting the flag as you read this.
2007: Netflix Opens its Streaming Service
It’s sort of amazing that Netflix has only been around for about 20 years, but it’s the sole reason that movie watching will never be the same again. Initially unveiled in 2007, Netflix’s streaming service put thousands of movies at the consumer’s fingertips, providing instant access to years’ worth of digital media. Today, Netflix is a verb, they produce tons of their own content, and they’re at the center of one of the biggest political conversations in the USA. What a whirlwind of a decade!
Of course, there’s tons of smaller stuff in between these major events, like the invention of digital projection, the first drive-in theater, and the invention of digital cameras, but I’d say that, historically, these are the biggest developments in the way we watch movies.