First Introduced: 1952
The Concept: At the beginning of the 1950s—and spurred largely by audiences embracing a new technology called television—Hollywood brass decided they could lure the masses back to theaters by making the cinematic experience bigger and wider. Widescreen movies were not unusual at the time, but most films were shot using the boxy dimensions of a TV screen. By the end of the decade, moviegoers were introduced to a bewildering assortment of widescreen formats: VistaVision (and Super VistaVision), Techniscope, Todd-AO, SuperScope and Circarama. But none came close to capturing the gaudy grandeur of the Cinerama.
How It Works: Let’s start with the Cinerama screen, which was not only deeply curved (think: the top of an egg), but constructed of hundreds of inch-wide strips of reflective material, each carefully placed to maximize screen brightness. And that’s the easy part of this technology. Films using this system had to run three cameras—spaced equally apart and running simultaneously and in perfect synchronization—for every scene. Which, of course, meant that showing these movies required three projectors—again, running simultaneously and in perfect synchronization. It’s hardly surprising that only a handful of so-called “3-strip” Cinerama theaters were ever constructed.
Was It Successful? Yes and no. The first film to utilize this technology, the ingeniously titled This is Cinerama, had a lavish premiere (attended by the governor of New York and Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer) in Times Square on Sept. 30, 1954. The 115-minute-long film—which included footage of a bullfight, Niagara Falls and a roller coaster—played to sold-out crowds for more than two years and was the highest-grossing movie of 1952. But…
Other Movies That Used This Technology: …the cost and effort of shooting 3-strip Cinerama was prohibitive—only two Hollywood features were shot this way: 1962’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won.