An early film being shownAn early film being shown In 1895 two French brothers, Louis and Auguste Lumière, showed moving pictures to a paying audience. Their groundbreaking invention, the Cinématographe, could record pictures on to film, and then project them on to a screen for viewing. Audiences watched movies of people leaving their work at a factory, and a train pulling into a station. A multi-billion-dollar industry, as well as a dynamic new art form, has grown up from these small beginnings in only a little more than a century.

Filmmakers shooting a drama in the early days Filmmakers shooting a drama in the early days

The birth of movies

Early movies were only a few minutes long, and in black and white. These "silent movies" had no sound, but a pianist beside the screen played background music. Soon cinemas started up, such as the early Nickelodeons in the USA, where it cost five cents (a nickel) for a ticket.

In time, movies became longer with more exciting storylines and characters. The first full-length movie, called a "feature film", was made in 1914. It was a Western (cowboy drama) called The Squaw Man. In France, Charles Pathé showed newsreels—short documentaries about the events happening at the time—and soon introduced colour instead of black and white.

A scene from the silent movie Dough and DynamiteA scene from the silent movie Dough and DynamiteClick to play video

From silent to talkies

Movie-goers in the 1920s paid to see silent stars such as Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin. Slapstick comedies, war dramas and romances were popular. Then, in a major technical breakthrough, the first talkies arrived. The Jazz Singer (1927), starring Al Jolson, was the first full-length movie to include synchronized talking sequences (with pictures and sound in unison), as well as songs. Lights of New York (1928) was the first feature film to have sound throughout.

Poster for Gone with the WindPoster for Gone with the Wind


As silent movies became a thing of the past, so too did black and white movies from the 1930s onwards—although many continued to be made into the 1960s. Technicolor cameras used three strips of film which, when combined, made colour movies. Audiences were treated to colourful musicals such as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and epic dramas like Gone With the Wind (1939).

The movie industry grew up in the district of Hollywood in Los Angeles, California, situated close to varied landscapes and blessed with a sunny, warm climate. Hollywood studios such as Fox Studios (later 20th Century Fox) and Warner Bros controlled every part of the movie process, even the actors and the cinemas.

Gertie on Tour (1921), an early cartoonGertie on Tour (1921), an early cartoonClick to play video

Cartoon creations

Cartoon movies are made with animated drawings, allowing the storyteller to make animals into characters and create colourful, imaginative and often funny dramas. The first cartoons, as old as the movies themselves, were hand-drawn. The 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur cartoon featured the first famous animated character. Walt Disney made the first ever three-colour Technicolor animation, Flowers and Trees (1932), before releasing the first full-length cartoon feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937. Many modern cartoons are made with computer generated imagery (CGI), a technique pioneered in the first full-length animated movie of its kind, Toy Story (1995).


Blockbusters and new technology

The rise in popularity of TV in the 50s and 60s, meant that movie companies had to find new ways to attract audiences to their cinemas. Blockbuster films, such as Star Wars (1977), Jaws (1975) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), combined spectacular special effects, thrilling storylines and popular characters.

A still from the CGI animation Big Buck Bunny (2008)A still from the CGI animation Big Buck Bunny (2008)From the 1990s, CGI was used in films of all types. George Lucas created whole new worlds for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), with characters and settings that existed only as computer imagery. Combining CGI with 3D allowed filmmakers to create even more incredible effects, with the characters seeming to leap off the screen in films such as Avatar (2009).

A clip from the classic Indian film Lagaan (2001)A clip from the classic Indian film Lagaan (2001)Click to play video

World cinema

European movies from the 1950s were a huge influence on Hollywood film directors. The French director Jean-Luc Godard was an important part of the New Wave, which used exciting new editing techniques and low budgets to make moody, artistic films.

Hollywood is rivalled in Asia by Indian-made, Hindi-language movies. Bollywood (a combination of "Bombay", Mumbai's old name, and "Hollywood") is based in Mumbai. The movies are famous for their combination of drama, love, comedy, stunts, thrills—and much singing and dancing. The Indian studios produce more movies than any other national film industry.


Production team

The producer is in overall charge: he or she must choose the story and script, find the right actors, director and crew, organize the funding and then promote the movie, so that audiences will want to see it. Before filming starts, a screenplay is necessary. This is written by the screenwriter, and includes the storyline, the speaking parts for the actors and instructions on what actions are needed. A movie director is in charge of the making of the movie. He or she controls the drama through visualizing the script, choosing camera shots and guiding the actors and technical crew.On a film setOn a film setThe crew includes everyone from make-up artists to camera operators and sound technicians. The set is built by a production designer. The costumes are designed and made for the actors, and the property master obtains the "props"—the many items that appear on the sets. A cinematographer, also called the director of photography, works closely with the director, overseeing the lighting and camera angles. The team of electricians is headed by the gaffer. The key grip is in charge of a team of grips. They are in charge of the scenery and anything movable on set, for example, props, cameras, and sometimes the scaffolding to support the lights.

Film editors

After the movie has been shot, it is handed over to the editors. Movies are rarely filmed in the right order: a scene from the end might be filmed early on, then put in the right place at the editing stage. A director will always film more than is needed, so some scenes have to be left out, or cut. The film editor produces a movie of the right length while a continuity editor makes sure that it all makes sense when it is in the final edited order. The sound editor mixes all the speech, music and effects.

Actor Daniel Day-Lewis receiving an OscarActor Daniel Day-Lewis receiving an Oscar

Awards and festivals

The film industry recognizes its greatest achievements in several awards ceremonies each year. The Academy Awards, usually called the Oscars, first took place in Hollywood in 1929. All aspects of movie-making are honoured, including visual effects, costume, music and make-up, as well as acting and directing. Other ceremonies, such as the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) and the Golden Globes, are held before the Oscars. The stars gather at film festivals such as Cannes (France) and Sundance (Utah, USA) for previews from new or established directors.


Consultant: Philip Wilkinson

See also in Technology

Mickey Mouse was originally called Mortimer Mouse. He didn’t speak in his first eight movies.

A full-length movie uses on average about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) of film—around 27.5 m (90 ft) per minute. The epic 1959 movie Ben-Hur had 340 km (280 miles) before it was cut.

The Oscar award is a gold-plated statuette measuring 34 cm (13.5 inches) high. It probably gained its name when the Academy's Executive Secretary said the statuette reminded her of her "Uncle Oscar". No Oscar can be sold without being offered back to the Academy for just a dollar.

The highest-grossing film ever made is Avatar (2009), which earned over £1.6 billion ($2.7 billion) around the world.

The earliest colour films were hand-painted with dye. The 1902 film A Trip to the Moon was painted frame-by-frame by around 20 French women.

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