Films

This is how popcorn became the 'official' cinema snack

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Gary Ogden
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Here's the story behind why popcorn is the official 'cinema snack'

There you are, all settled in, ready to kick back and watch a good movie, head nestled comfortably into the seat, phone turned off, been looking forward to this film for ages

*CRUNCH*

Oh no.

*SMASH CRUNCH SNAP CRUNCH BANG*

It’s the sound of some oafish wide-mouth eating popcorn right behind your head - the movie is over. Oh well, not like you spent £15 on a ticket!

But why is it popcorn? Why do people have to get popcorn? Why can’t they just suck on a strawberry or something? Something soft? Why is popcorn the food most associated with the cinema? Well, if you’ll stop chewing for a single godforsaken minute, I’ll tell you.

Essentially, popcorn is cheap to make - it always has been, it always will be. You can make huge amounts of it very easily, very quickly and for little money - it’s no Michelin star snack, is popcorn. 

However, back when the cinema was first ‘a thing’, the nearest popcorn machine was a long way away. It started as a street food that you’d pick up at fairs and carnivals in the mid-1800s (the first steam-powered popcorn maker was made in 1885), but you wouldn’t find one in a cinema, because that was where the well-educated lot would go. Theatres stayed clear of this noisy, messy food (correct) as they catered to the upper echelons of the populace - those that could read, basically (seeing as there was no sound at the movies yet).

This is how popcorn became the 'official' cinema snack

Popcorn and the cinema, wedded for evermore 

Then, when films got the talkie treatment, and everyone started heading to the pictures, things changed a tad. It was around 1927 when it all kicked off, which handily coincided with The Great Depression, so people were on the lookout for cheapo thrills. As such, enterprising popcorn vendors would set up temporary shop outside the movie theatres and thrust their popped goodness onto the punters for a snip - you’d get a lot of bang for you buck, essentially. A lot of kernel for your earnel.

Eventually, your fave popcorn entrepreneurs began to sell directly inside the cinemas for a small fee - the food was already becoming synonymous with the movie-going experience. The theatre-owners recognised this, and soon cut the middle men out entirely, installing their own popcorn machines inside their establishments and selling directly to the hungry film fans.

Inevitably, and regrettably, it got to the stage where, if you were a reluctant cinema, not willing to let the Devil’s snack into your walls, then you’d face going out of business - people wouldn’t be seen dead watching a film without eating a handful of deafening corn every five seconds. Skip forward a smidgen more, and during World War II, when sugar was scarce, other snacks like sweets and fizzy drinks fell by the wayside, while the salty, cheap poppy stuff was able to thrive. Everyone was on the goddamn stuff. There was no going back from that. Popcorn had ruined cinema forever.

So there you go - that’s why you can’t ever enjoy a film in public ever again. That big klutz with the endlessly snapping mouth, spilling crumbs all down the back of your neck and punching his paper bag as hard and loud as he can - he’s there because someone once decided to heat a bit of corn until it exploded. Didn’t their parents tell them not to play with fire?

Anyway, enjoy the movie, if that’s at all possible now.

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the screaming thing though. @garyblogden

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