The Cinema Boom

‘Cinema theatres are popping up all over the place’ was a commonly heard phrase in the early 1910s. New cinemas were regularly appearing on the scene: sometimes these were new, comfortable buildings featuring all the modern conveniences, and other times these were remodelled shopfronts converted into cinemas by adding some chairs, a film screen and a projector.

The number of cinemas constantly changed – no sooner had one opened its doors than another was closing, sometimes all in a matter of weeks. This rampant growth stabilised within a decade, however, into a well-organised business sector led by the Nederlandsche Bioscoopbond. There were expensive, luxurious movie theatres built in the busy entertainment districts found in the centres of major cities, for example around Amsterdam’s Reguliersbreestraat and Rembrandtplein, as well as numerous neighbourhood cinemas located outside the city centres.

The bigger movie theatres in the city centres often programmed film premiere and major historical dramas such as Quo Vadis? (Italy, 1912) or Cabiria (Italy, 1914); in the smaller neighbourhood cinemas, popular serials and adventure films were shown. 

A new kind of night out

The rise of the cinemas marked a change in people’s leisure habits. Music and theatre had been the most important activities for an evening out during the first years of the 20th century. These were pushed aside in the 1910s by cinemas, however, which dominated the entertainment industry within no time.

In Amsterdam in 1916 (the first year for which there are statistics available), 3.7 million people attended the cinema; this grew to 7.7 million in 1930. Other major cities experienced similar skyrocketing figures: Rotterdam had 4.3 million filmgoers in 1930, and The Hague’s cinema attendance rose from 800,000 million people in 1915 to 4.3 million in 1930. Nationally, there were 15 million filmgoers in 1916; this increased to 30 million in 1930 and, on the eve of the First World War, to 40 million.

The number of cinemas in the Netherlands rose from about 170 in 1916 to 300 in 1930; in 1940, there were 380 in total.

The end of travelling cinema draws near

The emergence of cinemas in permanent venues marked the end of the travelling cinema. Many showmen stopped screening films and, although a number of them remained active in the film business as cinema owners or employees in a film company, most of them traded their travelling film shows in for another fairground attraction; only a very few of the showmen remained active, and then only in the rural provinces of the country.


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