Why Is Popcorn a Popular Movie Snack?

The Kernel
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It All Starts at the Movies!

The cinema is always a fun place to go to, even if the film isn’t all that great. Why? That’s because you have the buttery magic of popcorn, of course! Everyone enjoys  a generous serving of popcorn and a drink to wash it down when going to the cinema. 

After all, popcorn is delicious, affordable, comparatively more healthy, and, overall, a great snack. Plus, the crunching of popped corn and the rustling of the bag in an otherwise silent theater has become an integral part of the movie-watching experience. 

So, despite early opposition from theater owners, the two remain inextricably linked.

But what makes popcorn a ‘movie’ snack? When did these two become so intertwined? And what makes popcorn and movies such a brilliant combination? To find the answers, let’s take a look at the past.

History of Popcorn Becoming a Movie Theater Staple

A Not-So-Famous Snack

When movie theaters first popped up, they were very different from today. Until the late 1920s, theaters were high-end establishments that uniquely catered to the upper class, who were highly educated and very sophisticated. 

This was  the era of silent movies. Movies had no sound, and all the dialogue was written on the screen, people who couldn’t read the dialogue on the screen therefore couldn’t ‘appreciate’ the film as the upper class did.

Some people might have come for the images or the orchestra that would occasionally accompany the film, but most of the visitors were educated, middle-class and fairly stuffy by today’s standards!.

So what was the big deal? Everyone likes popcorn, right?

It may be true now, but it wasn’t true at that time. Back in the day, movie theaters despised popcorn. They declared it a snack for the lower class, as it used to be most prominently available at circuses and other venues. Furthermore, the theater owners were concerned that the kernels would damage their beautiful and expensive carpets. The movie theaters of old were very fancy establishments!

It wasn’t just popcorn. Snacks of all kinds were prohibited, forcing patrons to sneak food into the theater. (Much like they do today!)

But even beyond banning food items, popcorn had a special position of derision for these fancy-schmancy theater owners and cinema viewers, uniquely because of its sloppy nature and association with the circus.

Street Vendors Popularize Popcorn

Surprisingly, even after the eventual rise of popcorn as a staple for movies, the people in charge of the popcorn did not work for the cinema. They tended to be vendors who sold popcorn on street corners.

This is because a factor contributing to popcorn’s superiority over other snacks was its appealing aroma when popped, which street vendors utilized when selling popcorn.

So, popcorn was easily portable, and it could be produced in large amounts without needing access to a kitchen. Easy access to popcorn meant easy snacking for cinema goers! It was a match made in heaven.

The Great Depression Made Popcorn the Famous Movie Snack 

Then came the Great Depression. With not a spare penny to be found, popcorn became the most popular movie snack because it was the cheapest that theaters could offer. It used to cost 5-10 cents per bag, and nearly everyone could afford it.

It was both a filling snack and a small luxury that allowed people to unwind and forget about their problems for a short time. Going to the movies was the luxury, and the relatively cheap popcorn made it an even better destination.

Popcorn was the reason theaters didn’t go out of business during those trying times. And that makes it one of the reasons ‌cinemas are still operating today!

Why the Popularity Continues to This Day

Still Inexpensive

A small bag of popcorn can cost as little as $1, and a large bag can cost around $5. This price point makes popcorn affordable for most people.

A Mess-Free Snack

Another reason popcorn is a popular movie snack is because it’s easy to eat with your hands without making a mess. Popcorn kernels are small and round, so they don’t stick to your teeth or get stuck in crevices as some other snacks can. Moreover, it’s often dry and non-sticky as compared to drinks or hotdogs, which makes it easier to handle, too.

This all makes popcorn a convenient choice for people watching a movie who don’t want to worry about taking a break to brush their teeth or floss after eating, or even about cleaning up a messy spill afterwards. (Even if the guy running the vacuum after the movie disagrees!)

Variety of Flavors Available

Another reason why popcorn is popular is that it can be flavored in various ways to suit different preferences. The different flavors of popcorn that are available in theaters make it a versatile snack with something suited for everyone’s needs. 

Popcorn can be purchased with different seasonings, or it can be flavored at home with butter, salt, sugar, or a variety of other flavors. This allows each person to customize their popcorn experience to their liking. 

Some of the most famous popcorn flavors include butter, salt, caramel, and cheese.

Relatively Healthy as Compared to Other Snacks 

Popcorn is also a comparatively non-problematic snack option. That’s because it’s a whole grain and is low in calories and fat. This means it’s great for people on diets. It’s also a great way to get a little more fiber and antioxidants.

Entertainment Value

Finally, popcorn provides extra entertainment value by just existing. After all, it’s a tried-and-true movie snack that’ll stop you from fidgeting through the screening. 

It’s one of the few foods that can be consumed without needing to go to the concession stand multiple times or pay inordinate amounts of attention to what you’re eating. This allows people to snack and watch their movies at the same time.

Why Is Movie Popcorn So Good?

This, of course, refers to the ingredient that makes popcorn so delicious. Most theaters use coconut oil to make popcorn, and add Flavacol during the process to incorporate the signature yellow color and salty taste in the kernels.

Final Thoughts 

Though it took a while for popcorn to make its way into the cinema, now we can’t imagine watching a movie without it.

What do you think? In the United States, January 19th is National Popcorn Day. Even if that’s not today, share this trove of information with your friends to show appreciation for our favorite movie snack!

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