Fact Check: About the Claim That Popcorn Was Once Banned in US Movie Theaters Because of the Crunchy Noise

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Popcorn used to be banned in movie theaters because of the noise people made when they ate it.


Rating: Mixture
Rating: Mixture

What's True:

Many early movie theaters did not allow their patrons to consume snacks like popcorn during the shows ...


What's False:

... but while noise was a factor, it was by no means the only one. The ban on snacks was a result of movie theaters' attempt to recreate the rarefied atmosphere of live theater, opera or ballet, as they sought to attract a affluent, cultivated audience.


A viral Reddit post from early 2017 claimed that popcorn used to be banned in (presumably U.S.) 1920s movie theaters because of the crunchy noise people make when they eat it:

by u/Kohano from discussion
in todayilearned

The post had gained 6,300 upvotes and 228 comments as of this writing.

While popcorn is now associated with movie theaters, it is true that early cinemas in the U.S. prohibited their patrons from consuming the snack during live shows. The noise wasn't the only reason, however, which is why we have rated the claim a mixture of true and false.

A Pastime for the Rich

Early movie theaters showed silent movies, which required the viewers to know how to read. At the time, the cinema was novel enough that movie theaters tried to turn this form of entertainment into a marker of exclusivity, something the wealthy and educated would have access to, much like live theater, the opera or the ballet. The first movie theaters were luxurious. They included rich decors, heavy velvet curtains, comfortable, elegant seats. Snacks were incompatible with such environments as they presented a distraction from the show. This is according to Andrew Smith, author of the book "Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America."

Things changed when movies turned into talkies, beginning in 1927 with "The Jazz Singer." Sound opened up films to much broader audiences, which exploded with the Great Depression, when cinema became an affordable source of amusement. But as the movies grew in popularity, people began to smuggle snacks into theaters — popcorn among them. Popcorn had become wildly popular, due to how easy and fun it was to make, as well as to how cheap it was to buy. Popcorn vendors would post themselves outside theaters and sell bags to moviegoers prior to the shows. Theater agents would sometimes ask patrons to leave their popcorn bags at coat checks.

Eventually, however, movie theater operators realized they might increase their profits by taking concessions inside. According to Smith, it was a resounding success, as the theaters that sold snacks survived the Great Depression while those that refused tended not to make it through the crisis. He said that by 1945, more than half of the popcorn consumed in the U.S. was eaten in movie theaters. In fact, in 2009, Time magazine reported that movie theaters made 85% of their profits from concessions.


Friedman, Rachel. 'A History of Movie Theater Snacks in America'. Bon Appétit, 20 Feb. 2013, https://www.bonappetit.com/trends/article/a-history-of-movie-theater-snacks-in-america.

Magazine, Smithsonian, and Natasha Geiling. 'Why Do We Eat Popcorn at the Movies?' Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-do-we-eat-popcorn-at-the-movies-475063/. Accessed 30 May 2024.

Nowak, Claire. 'Movie Theaters Used to BAN Popcorn (Seriously!)—But Here's Why We Can Buy It Now'. Reader's Digest, 29 June 2017, https://www.rd.com/article/movie-theater-popcorn/.

Silverman, Steve. '1949 - Theater Popcorn Ban Proposed'. Useless Information, 13 June 2022, https://uselessinformation.org/1949-theater-popcorn-ban-proposed/.

Staff, Scroll. 'Why Popcorn Was Initially Banned in Movie Theatres'. Scroll.In, 16 Apr. 2017, https://scroll.in/reel/834704/why-popcorn-was-initially-banned-in-movie-theatres.