Every time we step inside a movie theater, we’re immediately hit by the enticing aroma of warm popcorn. The combination of buttery popcorn and movie theaters is something we can all rely on no matter what part of the country we may be from — but have you ever wondered why popcorn became such a staple for cinemas?
It turns out, the crunchy snack was actually once banned from being allowed inside most theaters. Instead of trying to sneak in candy bars, moviegoers would purchase their fresh popcorn outside of the theater from a vendor and take it in with them (despite signs requesting they leave it at the coat check). According to history experts from the Smithsonian, this occurred most often during the Great Depression. It’s important to note that before film studios made “talkies” in the late 1920s, movie theaters were considered a high-class luxury due to a lack of literacy in the lower classes. When the reading aspect was taken out of the picture, however, many theaters were still reluctant to give up their hoity-toity status. They were afraid that if they allowed snacks like popcorn inside, their lobbies and theaters would become littered with the trash and viewers would be distracted by the crunching sound.
When the Great Depression hit in 1929, life was understandably bleak for most of the US population for the next decade. Movie theaters offered one of the only escapes from all of the hardships, with tickets costing just a few cents. During this time, the popcorn vendors who parked outside of theaters and offered the snack for just five or 10 cents each became especially appealing. It was the perfect way to fill bellies with a starchy treat and forget about their troubles for the hour or so they were watching a movie.
Theaters eventually allowed customers to bring their popcorn in after striking deals with the vendors outside, but it didn’t take long for them to start making popcorn themselves for even better profits. After the Great Depression ended, World War II sealed the deal for popcorn’s popularity in theaters with sugar rationing taking out other movie theater snacks like candy and soft drinks. By the time the 1950s rolled around, theater owners realized popcorn and snacks were ultimately the best way to make money, which led to the classic animated advertisement, “Let’s All Go to the Lobby.” So the next time you chow down on some crunchy popcorn while seeing the latest blockbuster, keep in mind those folks from the past who savored it as the ultimate treat when times were at their hardest.