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'The Second Box Office': An Economic and Cultural History of the Concession Stand in American Cinema Exhibition

Hulls, Lucy Grace; (2021) 'The Second Box Office': An Economic and Cultural History of the Concession Stand in American Cinema Exhibition. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis analyses the development of the movie-theatre concession stand from the mid1910s to the 1950s, situating the concession stand within the economic and cultural history of American cinema exhibition. The concession stand, it argues, grew considerably during this period, becoming a major source of income (a “second box office”) that helped many cinemas survive. Precedents it developed would serve as an economic model for the modern multiplex. Chapter one examines the relationship shared by the concession stand and American movie-theatres during the 1920s, critiquing the existing narrative within film scholarship that movie-theatre refreshments at this time were essentially prohibited. Only one exhibition model from this period, the picture palace, fits this narrative but analysis of archival material demonstrates that this was far from being a universal model. Chapter two analyses how the concession stand developed a much greater importance for many movie-theatres during the 1930s. Survival during the Great Depression often depended on exhibitors’ willingness to embrace non-filmic exhibition practices. The sale of refreshments, principally candy, played an important role in keeping many movie-theatres afloat. Chapter three analyses how popcorn gained its foothold within the movie-theatre as a result of World War II. Deemed an essential wartime crop and benefitting from the wartime rationing of sugar which depleted candy stocks, popcorn consumption increased exponentially. The emergence of a popcorn industry from 1946 further cemented its position as the American movie food. These chapters all centre on the traditional indoor movie-theatre but chapter four focuses on a different exhibition model whose popularity peaked in the 1950s, the drive-in theatre. Tailoring the movie-going experience around the car, outdoor exhibitors had much greater freedom when it came to the concession stand and some of the practices relating to food and drink developed at drive-ins would subsequently become multiplex staples. Having experimented with serving models and menu items over several decades, by the mid-1950s the concession stand was increasingly recognised as an essential and highly profitable contributor to the economics of film exhibition.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: 'The Second Box Office': An Economic and Cultural History of the Concession Stand in American Cinema Exhibition
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request. - Some third party copyright material has been removed from this e-thesis.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10129868
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