Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Kenneth Aslakson




film, movies, cinema, America, history


My thesis examines the cultural formation of the social experience of “going to the movies.” There is no doubt of a unique quality associated with going to the movies that holds a significant place in America’s cultural history. It is quite difficult to imagine life without movies. Their visually stimulating effects successfully captivate our minds and allow for a short period of solace from reality. Furthermore, there is something magical at work in the social tradition of going to the movies where the idea of sitting in a dark auditorium filled with strangers all sharing the same viewing experience. This social tradition began to form at the advent of cinema in the late 1890s and was firmly established in the following twenty years. The interaction between the establishment of a new industry, advancements in aesthetics of the medium, and cultivating urban setting of New York City coalesced to create the fundamental idea people associate with “going to the movies.” This paper is organized into three chapters. The first chapter focuses on the burgeoning of the film industry in America as a trade analyzing the developments chronologically. Drawing the conclusion that the industry developed as a result of passing through five stages, being a culmination of developments combining technological advancements as well as economic and legal decisions. Chapter two is dedicated to a case study examining the aesthetics in film through Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903) and D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). By analyzing each film’s aesthetic qualities, one can see a progression in narrative and creative style allowed because of the advancements in technology and industry. Finally, chapter three devotes its entirety to a chronology of how the movies developed as a cultural aspect in New York City from the sole use of primary sources. It was the demanding of multiple kinds of regulations that resulted in a permanent home for the movies. From newspaper and trade paper articles, specifically the New York Times and Moving Picture World, there is a clear indication that New York City can be credited to forming the experience coined as “going to the movies.” I end my study in at the end of 1917 with the completion of Rivoli Theater because it solidifies the permanent establishment of a movie-going culture. To conclude the paper, a summary of each element in the factor of the initial years of the film industry is explained connecting them to ratify the importance of how such a cultural phenomenon was born. I am interested in this topic because I have a strong passion for the movies. My grandfather, Sam Horwitz, owned movie theaters in New York City in the 1960s and growing up I always felt a special connection whether through stories or pictures. My grandfather was also an active City Councilman during that time where his role as a politician and exhibitionist in the community worked together, similar to the connection in the early 1900s between the City’s Alderman and industry. Because the New York Times was one of the main newspapers in New York during the twentieth century, I chose it as one of my primary sources. I examined over one hundred and forty articles from 1896-1930, to conclude that the formation of “going to the movies” was created in its first twenty years of existence.