Popcorn used to be banned in movie theaters.

  • Liberty Theater in 1935
Liberty Theater in 1935
The New York Public Library/ Unsplash

Few things go together like movies and popcorn, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, popcorn used to be banned in movie theaters. As the nickelodeons of the early 20th century were replaced by comparatively luxe venues that wanted to emulate the sophisticated vibe of traditional theaters in the 1920s and ’30s, cinema owners decided to ban the now-ubiquitous snack — it was loud, messy, and didn’t exactly evoke seeing Madama Butterfly at the Met. “Movie theaters wanted nothing to do with popcorn,” according to Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn author Andrew Smith, “because they were trying to duplicate what was done in real theaters. They had beautiful carpets and rugs and didn’t want popcorn being ground into it.”

That’s a reasonable objection, but it was eventually trumped by how much money those same owners stood to make during the Great Depression. Movies were a much-needed (and inexpensive) escape during that historic downturn, and selling popcorn in-house for 5 to 10 cents a bag helped keep countless theaters afloat at a time when many popcorn-less venues were going under. By 1945, more than half the popcorn consumed in the U.S. was sold in movie theaters, and in the nearly 80 years since, that association has only grown stronger.

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