50 fascinating facts about the film industry

Written by:
November 26, 2020
Paramount Pictures

50 fascinating facts about the film industry

Legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg said, “Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about.” The magic began more than a century ago in an industry unlike any other in the world. Both glamorous and ugly, the film industry's beginnings came with an ambitious New Jersey inventor, two French brothers, several cameras, and a series of moving images that would eventually tell stories to entertain and enthrall audiences everywhere. It is a world filled with a rich and ever-expanding history. 

Stacker compiled 50 fascinating facts about the film industry using various entertainment and news publications and film sites including Newsweek, Film School Rejects, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, and IMDb. The list includes facts that touch upon every aspect of the industry from directing, cinematography, and costume design to acting and writing. The list also includes industry firsts, awards trivia, and a blend of both historical and contemporary facts. 

From the first film kiss and the first Black actor to win an Oscar to interesting facts like director cameos and improvised moments, these industry nuggets are both interesting and informative. The list contains several obscure facts that will enthrall both the film novice and the expert cinephile. 

Discover the director who was also a talented illustrator, or the first movie to feature full-frontal male nudity (and how long it came after the first to show full-frontal female nudity). Find out which actor helped pay for an Oscar-winning film, and why the Hollywood sign disappeared for three months. Here, we uncover the best and worst about an industry that continues to fascinate and bring joy to millions around the world. 

Read on to learn these fabulous film facts. 

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Shamley Productions

The first toilet did not flush on the American big screen until 1960

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” features the first shot of a flushing toilet in mainstream American cinema. Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, flushes a piece of paper, setting up the audience for the infamous “shower” scene, wherein Hitchcock kills off his leading lady midway through the movie.

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Twentieth Century Fox

Leonardo DiCaprio did not do the drawing in ‘Titanic’

“Titanic” director James Cameron stood in as the “stunt hand” during the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio draws Kate Winslet’s character, Rose. Cameron, a talented illustrator, actually drew Winslet. The issue when shooting the scene was that the men did not write with the same hand, so in post-production, the editor had to mirror-image the shot.

3 / 50

The first narrative film is under 12 minutes long

Though it was not the first film ever made, the 1903 film “The Great Train Robbery” was the first film that told a story and is considered the first narrative fiction film. Under 12 minutes long, it was produced by Thomas Edison’s Edison Studios. The film shoot took place in New Jersey.

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D**k Thomas Johnson // Wikimedia Commons

Tom Hanks helped pay for ‘Forrest Gump’

Speaking on “In Depth With Graham Bensinger,” Tom Hanks revealed that he and director Robert Zemeckis paid for some of the film when Paramount limited its budget. While the director and actor paid to shoot several scenes, they asked the studio for an increase in the profits. Tom Hanks earned an estimated $65 million for the film.

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Universal Pictures

‘Schindler’s List’ relied on advertisements to get costumes for extras

The film’s costume designer, Anna Biedrzycka-Sheppard, required costumes for the 20,000 extras in the film and advertised to fill the need. Many people in Poland still had clothes from the 1930s and ‘40s, and were happy to sell them. Biedrzycka-Sheppard received an Oscar nomination for her efforts.

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Touchstone Pictures

One of the most memorable moments in ‘Pretty Woman’ was improvised

When Edward snaps the necklace case on Vivian’s fingers, Julia Roberts' reaction is genuine— Richard Gere decided to improvise, surprising her. Filmmakers found the moment so endearing, they decided to leave it in the film.

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Selznick International Pictures

One of the most famous lines in film almost didn’t happen

At the end of the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind,” Rhett Butler says, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, prohibited profanity in film. Producer David O. Selznick came up with 22 alternate versions of the line, but thankfully he never had to use them.

8 / 50

The Academy announced Oscar winners differently

The Academy announced Oscar winners three months prior to the first Academy Awards held on May 16, 1929. The sealed-envelope system we know today started in 1941. This was a direct result of the Los Angeles Times’ announcing the winners in the evening edition before the ceremony took place in 1940.

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Doc Searls // Wikimedia Commons

The film industry got its start in New Jersey

The American film industry began not in California but on the opposite coast. Many studios started out in the New Jersey towns of Bayonne and Fort Lee at the beginning of the 20th century, including famous names like Fox, Paramount, and Universal.

10 / 50

A famous ‘Pulp Fiction’ shot was filmed in reverse

John Travolta pulls the needle out of Uma Thurman’s chest after she overdoses in the film "Pulp Fiction." The actual shot was filmed in reverse, which made it seem as if the needle made contact with Thurman’s skin. This made the shot much safer since it reduced the risk of Travolta puncturing his co-star.

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11 / 50

The Hollywood sign once read ‘Hollywoodland’

Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler built the sign in 1923. It started out as a $21,000 billboard for Chandler’s real estate development known as Hollywoodland. The sign was shortened to the one we all know in 1949.

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Marvel Studios

A Marvel movie is the highest-grossing film of all time

As of September 2020, Marvel’s "Avengers: Endgame,” released in 2019, is the highest-grossing film of all time, making approximately $2.8 billion. It is the fourth film in the Avengers series and broke both domestic and international records for the largest opening weekend ever.

13 / 50

The first drive-in theater opened in 1933

On June 6, 1933, Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in theater in Camden, New Jersey. People watched the British comedy “Wives Beware” after paying 25 cents per car. Though the drive-in’s popularity has waxed and waned through the decades, 321 theaters remained open in the United States as of June 2020.

14 / 50

Real squirrels were used in ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’

Director Tim Burton decided to use 40 squirrels in the 2005 remake of the classic film. The rodents were trained by a professional animal trainer, and it took 19 weeks to train them to sit on stools, open nutshells, and sit on a conveyor belt.

15 / 50

‘The Birth of a Nation’ was not the first feature-length film

Many consider D.W. Griffith’s controversial “The Birth of a Nation” to be the first full-length movie, but it isn’t. The first feature-length film is thought to be the 1906 Australian film “The Story of the Kelly Gang.”

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16 / 50

The White House has a movie theater

The first film to screen at the White House, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” was screened in the main building. In 1942, when the East Wing of the White House was built, President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned the East Terrace cloakroom into a movie theater. The theater features 42 seats to accommodate the First Family and their guests.

17 / 50

Director Steven Spielberg made his first film for a merit badge

Steven Spielberg’s first film, “The Last Gunfight,” was nine minutes long and recorded on 8 mm film. It fulfilled the requirement to earn his photography merit badge for the Boy Scouts when he was just 11 years old.

18 / 50

The film rating system began in 1968

Motion pictures were first rated in 1968 based on a family-focused rating system. Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) chairman Jack Valenti replaced the infamous Hays Code with the new guidelines.

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Rhododendrites // Wikimedia Commons

A Brian De Palma film received the first X rating

The MPAA ratings started in November of 1968, and in December 1968, the Brian De Palma film “Greetings” received the first X rating. It starred Robert De Niro and was given the rating for its sexually explicit content.

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Walt Disney Pictures

It cost more than $300 million to make the most expensive film ever

According to NerdWallet, the most expensive film ever made as of November 2020 is the 2011 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” with a budget of $378.5 million. The number was adjusted to $422 million for inflation.

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Unknown // Wikimedia Commons

The first motion-picture film camera was called the Kinetoscope

Invented by Thomas Edison and William D**kson, the camera allowed for one individual to view a film through a peephole window at the top of the device. The only surviving film from the Kinetoscope is the 1890 test film “Monkeyshines, No. 1.”

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Columbia Pictures

Stephen King is the living author with the most film adaptations

36 of the author’s books have been turned into films. The first was “Carrie” in 1976, which was directed by Brian De Palma and became a box-office success. In a “Rolling Stone” interview, King said that 1986’s “Stand By Me” was his favorite adaptation.

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NBC Television Network

Toto was paid more than some of the humans in 'The Wizard of Oz'

Toto the dog, played by a female Cairn terrier named Terry, was paid $125 per week. Many of the film classic’s famous munchkins were paid $50 per week.

24 / 50

The Hays Code censored inappropriateness in American cinema

The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was formed in 1922, and the Hays Code was created in response to the scandalous reputation the film industry gained in its early years. The Code included a 1927 list of "Don'ts,” which included profanity, nudity, use of illegal drugs, and sexual perversion. The code also included several “Be Carefuls,” which instead of forbidding behaviors simply cautioned against them.

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Red Granite Pictures

The first curse word appeared in film in 1929

Cursing didn’t show up in film until two years after sound did. In the decades that followed, swearing became common, especially in American cinema. The film that featured the most use of the F-word is Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

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Polygram Filmed Entertainment

The Dude writes a check with an interesting date

The Coen brothers’ 1998 classic “The Big Lebowski” features The Dude (Jeff Bridges) writing a check for 69 cents at Ralph’s grocery store. The check is dated September 11, 1991, even though the press interview with then-president George Bush playing on television in the same scene actually took place on August 5, 1990.

27 / 50
Armory Films

Only one woman has been nominated for an Oscar for cinematography

While only one woman has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director, only one has been nominated for the Academy Award for cinematography. The honor went to Rachel Morrison for 2018’s “Mudbound.” Morrison wrote for “Time” magazine about what that meant to her and the other female cinematographers in the industry.

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Toglenn // Wikimedia Commons

Hugh Hefner helped save the Hollywood sign

The Hollywood sign fell into a state of disrepair in the 1970s, and “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner vowed to save it. Others also offered help, including the band Fleetwood Mac, who offered to throw a benefit concert, much to the chagrin of local residents. The sign disappeared for three months in 1978 while a new sign was built, and Hefner sold off specific letters to several celebrities to then donate to the new incarnation.

29 / 50

The earliest motion-picture cameras filmed at 16-18 frames per second

The slowest frames-per-second sequence that the human eye can process is 13 fps. Films are almost universally projected at 24 frames per second. Frame rate is the speed at which your brain can convince your eyes that they see smooth motion.

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Matthew E. Cohen // Wikimedia Commons

The first public movie theater opened after the turn of the 20th century

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 19, 1905, the Nickelodeon theater opened. The owner, vaudeville organizer Harry Davis, opened more than a dozen Nickelodeon theaters in Pittsburgh within a few months. More than 8,000 cinemas cropped up within two years.

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31 / 50

A stop-motion technique is used for the earliest moving picture

Photographer Eadweard Muybridge arranged 12 cameras around a horse racing track, and the horse triggered each camera as it passed, taking 12 photos in rapid succession. This 1878 feat known as “The Horse in Motion” was the first instance of motion in a picture.

32 / 50
Am Psycho Productions

A well-known actor inspired Christian Bale’s performance in ‘American Psycho’

In an interview with Black Book, “American Psycho” director Mary Harron revealed that Christian Bale used actor Tom Cruise for inspiration when playing the character of Patrick Bateman. Harron said, “One day he called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.”

33 / 50

Directors make cameos in each other’s films

Directors often make cameo appearances in films. Cameron Crowe appeared in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” as a man riding the subway. Crowe was returning a favor—Spielberg had appeared in “Vanilla Sky,” where he played himself and greeted Tom Cruise’s character with the line, “Happy Birthday, you son of a b****.”

34 / 50
Mark and Colleen Hayward // Getty Images

The Beatles petitioned for Mick Jagger as Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Mick Jagger wanted to play the role of Alex in the film adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange.” Jagger envisioned himself in the lead, with the Rolling Stones playing the droogs and the Beatles working on the soundtrack. The petition went up for auction in 2015.

35 / 50
Fantasy Films

Only three films have won “The Big Five” Oscars

In the history of cinema, only three films have won Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film. The first was Frank Capra’s 1934 film, “It Happened One Night.” The other two films were 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”

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36 / 50

The first film kiss happened in 1896

A 30-second film called “The Kiss” was the first kiss captured on film. It featured Broadway stars May Irwin and John Rice kissing. The film was produced by Thomas Edison’s company in 1896.

37 / 50

The first film to feature a fully naked woman appeared in 1915

The 1915 film “Hypocrites” featured a fully undressed woman and was directed by female director Lois Weber. The first studio film to feature a fully naked man came 54 years later with Ken Russell’s 1969 film “Women in Love.” The Oscar-winning film was an adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel.

38 / 50

The largest film market outside the United States is China

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Analysts in Beijing have begun predicting that the territory will easily usurp North America as the world’s top-grossing theatrical market in 2020.” China is no longer relying on Hollywood as much for its films—only two of China’s top-grossing films in 2019 were Hollywood productions.

39 / 50

Many filmmakers felt Thomas Edison held a monopoly on film

Thomas Edison wanted to charge royalties to anyone who wanted to use his patented film projector. Many in the film industry fled out west, but it was William Fox who made it possible for filmmakers to move out from under the control of Edison and his namesake Motion Picture Patents Company.

40 / 50

The landscape of cinema is changing with the rise of streaming films

With streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu offering films consumers can watch from the comfort of their living rooms, times are changing for theaters. Add to that the closure of many movie theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s clear that the commercial landscape looks strikingly different. However, a recent survey suggests that movies released theatrically still appeal to audiences.

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41 / 50

Oscar made history with the first LGBTQ+ Best Picture

In 2017, the Oscar for Best Picture was awarded to “Moonlight.” The film told the autobiographical story of a gay Black man. While several LGBTQ+ films received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, none had ever won.

42 / 50

The first public movie screening was held in 1895 in Paris.

The Lumière brothers debuted the film “La sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory)” at the very first public film screening on December 28, 1895. The black-and-white film was only 50 seconds long and depicted the Lumière factory as several workers were leaving.

43 / 50
Eon Productions

James Bond wore a toupee

As superspy James Bond, Sean Connery wore a toupee in every James Bond film he starred in. Connery started balding when he was just 17 years old.

44 / 50
Compass International Pictures

A horror movie villain wore the mask of a famous TV character

For the 1978 slasher film “Halloween,” there was a paltry budget allotted for the knife-wielding maniac’s mask. The crew spray-painted a Captain Kirk mask white and adjusted the eyes and hair—and Michael Myers was born.

45 / 50

Streaming-service films are winning Oscars

Amazon film “Manchester by the Sea” won three Oscars in 2017. The streaming service also distributed the Iranian film “The Salesman,” which took home the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. In the same year, the Oscar for Best Documentary Short went to the Netflix film “The White Helmets,” which Netflix produced and distributed.

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Bettmann // Getty Images

Hattie McDaniels was the first Black actor to win an Oscar

The “Gone with the Wind” star won an Oscar in 1940 for her role as Mammy. At that time, the Oscars themselves were plaques, rather than statuettes.

47 / 50
Warner Bros.

This first feature-length talkie was released in 1927

Warner Brothers released the first film with synchronized sound in October of 1927. “The Jazz Singer,” known then as a talking film or “talkie,” marked the beginning of the end of the silent film era.

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Selznick International Pictures

Old sets were burned to create the fire scene in ‘Gone with the Wind’

In the interest of efficiency, the filmmakers, who had to get rid of some old sets to create new ones, burned them and used them to show Atlanta going down in flames in the 1939 classic. The blaze was shot before the role of Scarlett O’Hara was cast.

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Universal Pictures

‘Jurassic Park’ featured mating sounds

In the film “Jurassic Park,” the sound used when the Velociraptors communicate is a mating sound; the same one tortoises make when having sex. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom received two Academy Awards for sound design and mixing for the film. He spent hours recording different animal sounds to figure out which sounds could emulate ones no one had ever heard: those made by long-extinct dinosaurs.

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Bettmann // Getty Images

One serial killer inspired three fictional film serial killers

Notorious serial killer Ed Gein inspired Buffalo Bill from the 1991 film “The Silence of the Lambs,” Leatherface from 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film “Psycho.” Ed Gein lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, and had created a real-life house of horrors.

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