Posted May 18, 2012 by Myke Friscia in Movies

The Birth of the Box Office


The movie business is a billion dollar industry. 2011 domestic box office receipts totaled 10.17 billion, 10.47 in 2010, and 10.65 in 2009, its highest ever. Projections are for box office numbers to keep going up. DVD sales and rentals are way down and piracy is way, way up, yet the numbers continue to rise. History has shown that even during the worst of economic times, people love movies. Worldwide box office numbers totaled over 31 billion a year over the last few years and is predicted to total over 50 billion a year by 2015 and keep rising. When did this all start? Who were the first people ever to pay to see a movie?

It all started in Manhattan, 1894. Two entrepreneurial brothers, George and Andrew Holland, had an idea to use two of Thomas Edison’s inventions that anyone could buy, the Light Bulb and the Kinetoscope, to charge people to see moving pictures. They rented a closed down shoe store a few blocks from where the Empire State building was to be built to start the first Kinetoscope Parlor .

The parlor consisted of 10 wooden booths for patrons to stand at. They were to look through a peephole into a box that had a magnifying glass that allowed them to view film strips set against the light bulb. By looping the film strips together on a spool, it gave the illusion of a moving picture. The brothers had a stock of ten, 20 second film strips, with titles like “Roosters“, “Trapeze“, “Barber Shop“, “Cock fight”, and “Wrestling“ which they bought from Thomas Edison’s Black Maria Studios .

As the story goes, the brothers were setting up their parlor for business, hoping to open in a few days. They put the Kinetoscope in the window and it began to attract a small crowd of people who were curious about the device. With people gathered around their storefront, they decided to open up and let them in. They offered to let this first group of people see their entire collection of spooled pictures for .25 cents a person. The fascinated crowd anxiously forked over the money and watched away. The device in the window attracted even more people to the parlor. By days end, 500 people paid the .25 cent entry and the Holland brothers raked in a fortune of $120. Thus on April 14th, 1894, the box office had been born!

And what did these early blockbusters look like?  See for yourself – Fredd Ott’s “Sneeze” – the first motion picture ever to be copy written.  Good thing they did, otherwise someone may have stolen this unique concept.

Average Ticket Prices

1930’s .25 cents
1940’s .45 cents
1950’s .50 cents
1960’s .60 cents
1970’s $1.55
1980’s $2.70
1990’s $4.25
2000’s $5.40
2010’s – Take out your credit card!

Myke Friscia

Screenplay Analyst, Writer, Director of Development for Gallagher Literary Management, Little Monster. "Words are my Passion".