1950s Movies: What Did People Watch?


The movie industry in the 1950s was under attack by a new foe: television. Home theater systems kept people in their homes and the cost of making a blockbuster movie rose sharply in the 1950s.


Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Rock Hudson and Sophia Loren were some of the hottest names in show business.

But it wasn’t just about big stars. Technology was making huge strides. 3-D was being heavily experimented with and color was getting more and more common.

Also families found another place to hang out: the drive-in movie theater. Now people’s kids could be loud and obnoxious in the car and it didn’t matter. Plus it was a great place to try to get to second base with your date.

Let’s go a little deeper into the history of the 1950s movie industry below.

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Top 10 Movies in 1950

What were the most popular movies in 1950?

  1. King Solomon’s Mines
  2. All About Eve
  3. Walt Disney’s Cinderella
  4. Annie Get Your Gun
  5. Father of the Bride
  6. Sunset Boulevard
  7. Born Yesterday
  8. Wabash Avenue
  9. At War with the Army
  10. My Blue Heaven

Who won the 1950 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: All About Eve
Best Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz – All About Eve
Best Actress: Judy Holliday – Born Yesterday
Best Actor: José Ferrer – Cyrano de Bergerac

Top 10 Movies in 1951

What were the most popular movies in 1951?

  1. Quo Vadis
  2. Alice in Wonderland
  3. Show Boat
  4. A Streetcar Named Desire
  5. David and Bathsheba
  6. An American in Paris
  7. The African Queen
  8. A Place in the Sun
  9. Strangers on a Train
  10. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Who won the 1951 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: An American in Paris
Best Director: George Stevens – A Place in the Sun
Best Actress: Vivien Leigh – A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Actor: Humphrey Bogart – The African Queen

Top 10 Movies in 1952

What were the most popular movies in 1952?

  1. The Greatest Show on Earth
  2. The Bad and the Beautiful
  3. The Snows of Kilimanjaro
  4. Ivanhoe
  5. Singin’ in the Rain
  6. Sailor Beware
  7. Moulin Rouge
  8. Hans Christian Andersen
  9. Affair in Trinidad
  10. Monkey Business

Who won the 1952 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: The Greatest Show on Earth
Best Director: John Ford – The Quiet Man
Best Actress: Shirley Booth – Come Back, Little Sheba
Best Actor: Gary Cooper – High Noon

Drive-In Movie Theaters were becoming more popular in 1952

Drive-In Movie Theaters were becoming more popular in 1952

Continued growth of the outdoor drive-in theater and a greater variety and somewhat improved quality of pictures released from Hollywood helped the movie industry in 1952.

By June 1952 the drive-in theaters had increased in number from 820 in 1948 to 3,483 (including Canada). These new outdoor theaters had more than offset the closing of 1,500 mostly obsolete “indoor” theaters during the period 1948-52 and by the end of that period were accounting for approximately 20% of gross motion-picture theater receipts in the United States and Canada. One of the principal reasons for the popularity of the drive-ins was their solution of the “baby-sitting” problem for parents.

The old-fashioned western pictures, once the staple product of the U.S. motion-picture industry, continued to decline in popularity in 1952 and more topical films took their place.

Biographical films were also produced in quantity, with 30 either released or in production at the end of the year, of these, 12 were in the musical category. Historical events were dramatized in a number of pictures, such as the voyage of the “Mayflower” (Plymouth Adventure) and the German siege of Tobruk in World War II (Desert Rats).

The story of a U.S. weather mission to the Gobi desert in Outer Mongolia during the early years of World War II was effectively told in Destination Gobi.

The three top box office successes of the summer period were Cecil B. De Mille’s circus picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy Jumping Jacks, and the English Tales of Hoffmann, a Technicolor adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera.

Samuel Goldwyn released his $4 million Technicolor Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye. In Nov. 1952, it broke a 16-year gross-receipts record at the Criterion theatre in New York city during its first week of showing.

Cinerama, the new three-dimensional motion picture, made its successful debut in New York city, Sept. 30, 1952. A Technicolor film titled “This is Cinerama” was projected on a curved screen 65 ft. wide and consisted of a series of short subjects.

Another three-dimensional process, known as Natural Vision, made its first appearance. By the end of 1952 there were 19 U.S. companies working on 3-D processes, some (like Cinerama) not requiring the audience to wear special Polaroid glasses.

The U.S. Supreme court ruled 9 to in May 1952 that U.S. cities and states cannot censor or bar motion pictures on the grounds that they are sacrilegious (the picture in question was the Italian film The Miracle, which had been banned in New York state). The Supreme court held that motion pictures come under the freedom-of-speech provisions of the U.S. constitution.

Top 10 Movies in 1953

What were the most popular movies in 1953?

  1. The Robe
  2. From Here to Eternity
  3. Shane
  4. How to Marry a Millionaire
  5. Peter Pan
  6. Hans Christian Andersen
  7. House of Wax
  8. Mogambo
  9. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  10. Salome

Who won the 1953 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: From Here to Eternity
Best Director: Fred Zinnemann – From Here to Eternity
Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn – Roman Holiday
Best Actor: William Holden – Stalag 17

Top 10 Movies in 1954

What were the most popular movies in 1954?

  1. Rear Window
  2. White Christmas
  3. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  4. Demetrius and the Gladiators
  5. The Caine Mutiny
  6. Vera Cruz
  7. Carmen Jones
  8. The Country Girl
  9. The Barefoot Contessa
  10. A Star Is Born

Who won the 1954 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: On the Waterfront
Best Director: Elia Kazan – On The Waterfront
Best Actress: Grace Kelly – The Country Girl
Best Actor: Marlon Brando – On the Waterfront

Top 10 Movies in 1955

What were the most popular movies in 1955?

  1. Cinerama Holiday
  2. Mister Roberts
  3. Battle Cry
  4. Oklahoma!
  5. Guys and Dolls
  6. Lady and the Tramp
  7. Not as a Stranger
  8. Strategic Air Command
  9. To Hell and Back
  10. The Seven Year Itch

Who won the 1955 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: Marty
Best Director: Delbert Mann – Marty
Best Actress: Anna Magnani – The Rose Tattoo
Best Actor: Ernest Borgnine – Marty

Top 10 Movies in 1956

What were the most popular movies in 1956?

  1. The Ten Commandments
  2. Around the World in 80 Days
  3. Giant
  4. War and Peace
  5. The King and I
  6. The Searchers
  7. Bus Stop
  8. The Girl Can’t Help It
  9. High Society
  10. Written on the Wind

Who won the 1956 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: Around the World in 80 Days
Best Director: George Stevens – Giant
Best Actress: Ingrid Bergman – Anastasia
Best Actor: Yul Brynner – The King and I

Top 10 Movies in 1957

What were the most popular movies in 1957?

  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  2. Peyton Place
  3. Sayonara
  4. Old Yeller
  5. The Curse of Frankenstein
  6. Raintree County
  7. Island in the Sun
  8. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
  9. A Farewell to Arms
  10. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Who won the 1957 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: The Bridge on the River Kwai
Best Director: David Lean – The Bridge on the River Kwai
Best Actress: Joanne Woodward – The Three Faces of Eve
Best Actor: Alec Guinness – The Bridge on the River Kwai

James Dean in the movie Giant

James Dean in the movie Giant

For the movie industry 1957 was a nightmare year, with each release a matter of boom or bust and precious little room for near misses. Never before in the history of film had so few pictures grossed so much.

The Ten Commandments brought in $18.5 million while Around the World in 80 Days brought in $16.2 million.

Movie producers were spending more than ever before, but as The Spirit of St. Louis indicated, the mere fact that great deal of money went into the making of a movie by no means guarantees success.

Movie studios became more cautious. A $500,000 flop was a hardship, but a $5 million flop was a disaster.

TV’s free entertainment in American homes created a situation that kept movie companies reeling. It cut down greatly on box office attendance.

There was also a breakdown of the star system. It was once possible to cast a film with Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart or Joan Crawford and predict fairly accurately what the profits would be. But in 1957 the hardy perennials were visibly drooping on the vine.

Of the younger stars, Rock Hudson emerged as box-office champion, while only Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Elvis Presley and Pat Boone were worth their demands.

1957’s best film, The Bridge on River Kwai, won no less than seven Oscars. Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki both won Oscars for their excellent supporting performances in Sayonara.

Top 10 Movies in 1958

What were the most popular movies in 1958?

  1. South Pacific
  2. Auntie Mame
  3. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  4. No Time for Sergeants
  5. Gigi
  6. The Vikings
  7. Vertigo
  8. The Young Lions
  9. Some Came Running
  10. The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw

Who won the 1958 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: Gigi
Best Director: Vincente Minnelli – Gigi
Best Actress: Susan Hayward – I Want to Live!
Best Actor: David Niven – Separate Tables

Top 10 Movies in 1959

What were the most popular movies in 1959?

  1. Ben-Hur
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. North by Northwest
  4. Some Like It Hot
  5. Pillow Talk
  6. Imitation of Life
  7. Suddenly, Last Summer
  8. The Nun’s Story
  9. Rio Bravo
  10. Anatomy of a Murder

Who won the 1959 Academy Awards?

Best Picture: Ben-Hur
Best Director: William Wyler – Ben-Hur
Best Actress: Simone Signoret – Room at the Top
Best Actor: Charlton Heston – Ben-Hur


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6 thoughts on “1950s Movies: What Did People Watch?

  1. Rhonda

    My husband & I went to the collector car auto show in Detroit today, March 7,’15, where ‘The Riddler’ award is given sometime on Sunday. We saw so many awesome automobiles today. I came across your site while looking for women’s fashion from the 1950’s because my husband has restored a ’57 Caddi and I want us to dress the part when we take it to auto shows — after all this snow melts away! We’ve restored this 1957 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and it is not shown in the luxury cars section for the 1950’s on your site. I am curious where it fits. It was purchased new by my friend’s father in law in 1957 and had been sitting in their garage for 28 years when we purchased and began restoration. If you can let me know when the Coupe DeVille was introduced into the timeline – we’d appreciate the info. Thank you, Rhonda

  2. John Heister

    Hi I wanted to say your work is very appreciated by me and will help other people as well in the future, thank you for making this site.


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