For the first thirty years of their history, films were silent, although they were sometimes accompanied by live musicians and sound effects and occasionally commentary spoken by the showman or projectionist.
Early to Mid 1830’s Moving images were produced on revolving drums and disks with independent invention by Simon von Stampfer (Stroboscope) in Austria, Joseph Plateau (Phenakistoscope) in Belgium and William Horner (zoetrope) in Britain.
1839 British inventor, William H. Fox Talbot made paper sensitive to light by bathing it in a solution of salt and silver nitrate. The silver turned dark when exposed to light and in turn created a negative, which could be used to print positives on other sheets of light sensitive paper.
1867 The first machine patented in the United States that showed animated pictures was a device called the “wheel of life” or “zoopraxiscope”. Patented by William Lincoln, moving drawings or photographs were watched through a slit.
1878 British photographer Eadweard Muybridge takes the first successful photographs of motion, showing how people and animals move.
1885 American inventor George Eastman introduces film made on a paper base instead of glass, wound in a roll, eliminating the need for glass plates.
1888 By starting to develop films using its own processing plants, Eastman Kodak eliminates the need for amateur photographers to process their own pictures.
1889 Thomas Edison and W.K. Dickson develop the Kinetoscope, a peep-show device in which film is moved past a light.
1891 The Lumiere brothers were not the first to project film. The Edison company successfully demonstrated the Kinetoscope, which enabled one person at a time to view moving pictures.
1893 Thomas Edison displays his Kinetoscope at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and receives patents for his movie camera, the Kinetograph, and his peepshow device.
1894 The first commercial exhibition of film took place on April 14, 1894 at the first Kinetoscope parlor ever built.
1895 Two French brothers, Louis and August Lumiere patent a combination movie camera and projector, capable of projecting an image that can be seen by many people. In Paris, they present the first commercial exhibition of projected motion pictures. Lumiere and his brother were the first to present projected, moving, photographic, pictures to a paying audience of more that one person.
1896 Edison showed his improved Vitascope projector and it was the first commercially, successful, projector in the U.S..
1905 Cooper Hewitt mercury lamps make it practical to shoot films indoors without sunlight.
1906 The first animated cartoon is produced.
1909 There are about 9,000 movie theaters in the United States. The typical film is only a single reel long, ten- twelve minutes in length, and the actors were anonymous.
1910 actors in American films began to receive screen credit, and the way to the creation of film stars was opened.
1911 Credits begin to appear at the beginning of motion pictures.
1912 Carl Laemmle organizes Universal Pictures, which will become the first major studio.
1915 The Bell & Howell 2709 movie camera allows directors to make close-ups without physically moving the camera.
1923 Warner Bros. is established.
1925 Western Electric and Warner Bros. agree to develop a system for movies with sound.
1925 The first in-flight movie is shown. It was a black & white, silent film called The Lost World, is shown in a WWI converted Handley-Page bomber during a 30-minute flight near London.
1927 Warner Bros.’s The Jazz Singer, presents the movie’s first spoken words: “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” The Vitaphone method that the studio uses involves recording sound on discs.
1928 Paramount becomes the first studio to announce that it will only produce “talkies”.
1929 The first Academy Awards are announced, with the award for the best picture in 1927 going to ‘Wings’.
1930 The motion picture industries adopts the Production Code, a set of guidelines that describes what is acceptable in movies.
1931 American gangster films like Little Caesar and Wellman’s The Public Enemy became popular. Dialogue now took superiority over “slapstick” in Hollywood comedies: the fast-paced, witty banter of The Front Page (1931) or It Happened One Night (1934),
1933 Theaters begin to open refreshment stands.
1934 The first drive-in movie theater opens in New Jersey, USA.
1937 Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is released.
1939 American cinema brought such films as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with The Wind.
Early 1940’s The desire for wartime propaganda created a renaissance in the film industry in Britain, with realistic war dramas like 49th Parallel (1941), Went the Day Well? (1942), The Way Ahead (1944) and Noël Coward and David Lean’s celebrated naval film In Which We Serve in (1942).
1945 ‘Post-classical cinema’ described the changing methods of storytelling of the “New Hollywood” producers. The new methods of drama and characterization meant the story chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature unsettling “twist endings”.
Early 1950’s The House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Hollywood. Protested by the Hollywood Ten before the committee, the hearings resulted in the blacklisting of many actors, writers and directors, including Chayefsky, Charlie Chaplin, and Dalton Trumbo, and many of whom fled to Europe, especially the United Kingdom.
1952 The Cold War era translated into a type of near-paranoia manifested in themes such as invading armies of evil aliens, (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The War of the Worlds).
1953 Seven-year contracts with actors are replaced by single-picture or multi-picture contracts.
1957 The cinematic industry was threatened by television, and the increasing popularity of the medium meant that some film theatres would become bankrupt and close. The demise of the “studio system” spurred the self-commentary of films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).
1960 Hitchcock’s Psycho was released.
Early 1960’s The studio system in Hollywood declined, because many films were now being made on location in other countries, or using studio facilities abroad, such as Pinewood in the UK and Cinecittà in Rome.
1962 Hollywood films were still largely aimed at family audiences, and it was often the more old-fashioned films that produced the studios’ biggest successes. Productions like Mary Poppins (1964), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) were among the biggest money-makers of the decade.
1964 The growth in independent producers and production companies, and the increase in the power of individual actors also contributed to the decline of traditional Hollywood studio production.
Late 1960’s Saw Hollywood filmmakers begin to create more innovative and groundbreaking films that reflected the social revolution taken over much of the western world such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1967), A Space Odyssey (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Easy Rider (1969) and The Wild Bunch (1969). Bonnie and Clyde is often considered the beginning of the so-called New Hollywood.
1970’s Filmmakers increasingly depicted explicit sexual content and showed gunfight and battle scenes that included graphic images of bloody deaths.
1971 Marked the release of controversial films like Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Dirty Harry. This sparked heated controversy over the perceived escalation of violence in cinema.
Mid 1970’s A new group of American filmmakers emerged, such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas
1972 Film director’s begin to express their personal vision and creative insights. The development of the auteur style of filmmaking helped to give these directors far greater control over their projects than would have been possible in earlier eras. This led to some great critical and commercial successes, like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Coppola’s The Godfather films, Polanski’s Chinatown, Spielberg’s Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and George Lucas’s Star Wars. It also, however, resulted in some failures, including Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love and Michael Cimino’s hugely expensive Western epic Heaven’s Gate.
1976 The phenomenal success in the 1970s of Jaws and Star Wars in particular, led to the rise of the modern “blockbuster”. Hollywood studios increasingly focused on producing a smaller number of very large budget films with massive marketing and promotional campaigns.
Early 1980’s Saw audiences began increasingly watching films on their home VCRs. In the early part of that decade, the film studios tried legal action to ban home ownership of VCRs as a violation of copyright, which proved unsuccessful. Eventually, the sale and rental of films on home video became a significant “second venue” for exhibition of films, and an additional source of revenue for the film industries.
Early 1990’s Saw the development of a commercially successful independent cinema in the United States. Although cinema was increasingly dominated by special-effects films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993) and Titanic (1997), independent films like Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) had significant commercial success both at the cinema and on home video.
1994 Major American studios began to create their own “independent” production companies to finance and produce non-mainstream fare. One of the most successful independents of the 1990s, Miramax Films, was bought by Disney the year before the release of Tarantino’s runaway hit Pulp Fiction in 1994. The year 1994 also marked the beginning of film and video distribution online. Animated films aimed at family audiences also regained their popularity, with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994).
1995 The first feature length computer-animated feature, Toy Story, was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Disney. After the success of Toy Story, computer animation began to grow and became the principal technique for feature length animation, which allowed competing film companies such as DreamworksAnimation and 20th Century Fox to effectively compete with Disney with successful films of their own.
1992 Americans spend $12 billion to buy or rent video tapes, compared to just $4.9 billion on box office ticket sales. 76% of households have VCR players.
1994 Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen form the film studio DreamWorks.
Late 1990’s Another cinematic evolution began, from physical film stock to digital cinema technology. Meanwhile DVDs became the new standard for consumer video, replacing VHS tapes.
2000 The documentary film began to escalate as a commercial genre for conceivably the first time, with the success of films such as March of the Penguins and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
2001 Saw the beginning of a growing problem of digital distribution to be overcome with regards to expiration of copyrights, content security, and enforcing copyright. There is higher compression for films, and Moore’s law allows for increasingly cheaper technology.
2002 More films began being released simultaneously to IMAX cinema, the first was Disney animation Treasure Planet.
2003 The Matrix Revolutions and a re-release of The Matrix Reloaded could be viewed in IMAX cinemas.
2005 The Dark Knight was the first major feature film to have been at least partially shot in IMAX technology.
2009 James Cameron’s 3D film Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time.
2010 onward 3D films gained increasing popularity with many other films being released in 3D. The best critical and financial success was the feature film animation of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar’s Toy Story 3.
2012 Titanic was re-released in a special 3D version to celebrate the 100th anniversary.