100 iconic moments from movie history
As far as the arts go, film is one of the youngest disciplines around. In contrast to literature, theatre, music, and visual arts, its history can only credibly be said to span under 200 years. But in less than two centuries, the craft and evolution of film has transformed by leaps and bounds.
Some of this exponential growth and progress can be attributed to the rapid change of technology in the same time period, which roughly correlates from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the present day. Advances in technology have made going to the movies an increasingly immersive experience. From early attempts to capture human motion via the technology of a Victorian-era children’s toy to the IMAX theaters of today, which can make an audience feel it’s right there—on a sinking ship, for example—the history of film can in part be chartered by how close filmmakers have come to capturing the experience of real life with their cameras and other forms of simulation.
Other advances in film over the course of its short lifespan can be attributed to changing social norms and mores. Whereas once films may have been used to promote an official worldview or simply convey information—consider the trip the King and Queen of England took to India and recorded in the Edwardian era in a two-hour special to be shown back home—films today often take quite a different tack. From "Apocalypse Now," depicting the horrors of the American engagement in the Vietnam War, to the Oscar-winning "Parasite," which conveyed the simmering class tensions that exist below the surface of much of modern life, films often exist to explicitly or implicitly critique the power structures of the societies in which they are produced.
Stacker compiled a list of 100 iconic moments of movie history from historical records, cultural critiques and retrospectives, and film historians to look at some of the most important milestones in the history of the cinematic arts.
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The Phenakistoscope makes future films possible
In 1833, a Belgian physicist and Austrian geometrist independently invented versions of a Victorian parlor toy for children called the Phenakistoscope that gave the world its first taste of live animation. The popular toy relied on a spinning cardboard disk, a reflective mirror, and a viewfinder with which to view the moving image.
The Transit of Venus is captured on film
1874 was a watershed year for the evolution of the moving picture, as the planet Venus was captured on film. French astronomer Pierre Janssen used a large camera system to track Venus’ transit over Japan and would replicate the achievement several years later when the same planet tracked over Algeria.
Eadweard Muybridge captures motion
In 1878, photographer Eadweard Muybridge became the first person to capture what we would recognize today as a moving picture. Muybridge had been commissioned to document the phenomenon of horses’ hooves leaving the ground all at once, and he developed a device called the Zoopraxiscope to prove it with his forward-motion images of a horse galloping across the ground.
The oldest surviving film is recorded in a garden
French inventor Louis Le Prince filmed what would become the oldest motion film to survive to present day. The moving images were captured in 1888 in a garden in northern England, and show men and women in high Victorian dress moving about their days.
America gets its first taste of the movies
In 1891, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs screened a clip of a man passing a hat back and forth in front of himself at Thomas Edison’s laboratory. The showing was the first time American audiences were introduced to motion pictures.
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Actors take their first bows
The first actors in a motion picture made their debuts in 1893 in the silent film "Blacksmith Scene," in which a blacksmith works a piece of metal with his two assistants. The catch? The blacksmiths weren’t blacksmiths, but rather employees of the Edison company, which made the film.
A theater for moving pictures
The first commercial movie theater opened its doors in New York City in 1894, showing Kinetoscope films to audiences. The theater was run by the pioneering Holland Brothers, who opened the store with 10 machines.
A precursor to the projector
In 1895, an early film projector called the “phantoscope” was invented by Charles Francis Jenkins, a Dayton, Ohio native who worked on the device with a colleague. That year, he partnered with a businessman to bring the projector to an exposition in Atlanta, where crowds marveled at their ability to watch films as a group.
The first female director
Considered the first female director, Alice Guy-Blaché developed the concept of narrative film in the 1890s and early 1900s. Guy-Blaché was originally a photographer before the owner of her photography studio shifted his focus to films, bringing her on board to work on development.
[Pictured: Still from the film “Two Little Strangers.”]
Shakespeare makes his silver-screen debut