What was the First Movie Ever Made
Updated · Aug 24, 2022
Nowadays, the film industry is a complex web of artistry, logistics, and finances. These factors weave together to create immersive masterpieces that transport the viewers into a different reality.
Filmmaking has become ingrained in our everyday life and culture. So it’s hard to imagine a world without movies.
But how did it all begin? What was the first movie ever made?
Tracing the history of cinema is a fascinating dive into the development of film and technology. However, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you may think.
What was the First Movie Ever Made?
Tracing back the first film ever made is a little tricky because the further back we go, the blurrier the definition of “film” becomes.
The first attempts to create a moving collection of images were just proof of concept. A way to test new technology. It was much later that the actual art form of cinematography started to resemble what it is today.
The Horse in Motion - 1878
“The Horse in Motion” refers to a series of photographs shot by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. It’s widely considered the precursor of the earliest movies, and it shows the motion of galloping horses.
So, calling it a movie is a bit of a stretch. The Horse in Motion is what’s known as chronophotography. This means capturing multiple frames within a short period to showcase the passage of time and movement.
However, most chronophotographs weren’t meant to be shown as a motion picture.
Still, The Horse in Motion was an essential milestone in the development of filmography. Its creation led Muybridge to work on some of the very first movie exhibitions.
Roundhay Garden Scene - 1888
Roundhay Garden Scene was shot in 1888, in England, by Louis Le Prince. It’s quite possibly the first silent film ever made, with a running time of just one and a half seconds – that’s pretty short!
The camera used to film the scene was invented by Le Prince himself and was one of the earliest known. As far as we’re aware, no older surviving movie is known to exist.
Roundhay Garden Scene depicts four people walking around a garden in Roundhay, Leeds. The older woman in the picture, Sarah Whitley, is the first person to have ever appeared in a motion picture!
Was this film ever shown anywhere?
The likely answer is no. The people in the picture are family members of Le Prince. This probably means he never intended on showcasing the movie to the public.
Dickson Greeting - 1891
“Dickson Greeting” is the first American movie shown to the public.
It was filmed in 1891 by William K. L. Dickson, who’s also the person appearing on screen. The movie shows him passing a hat between his hands as a greeting. Dickson himself was the inventor of one of the earliest film cameras, and he even worked under Thomas Edison.
Dickson Greeting is barely any longer than Roundhay Garden Scene, at around two seconds. However, it represents an important step in movies becoming a work of art.
Blacksmith Scene - 1893
Filmed in 1893 in the United States, Blacksmith Scene is the first-ever film with actors. William K. L. Dickson also shot it, clocking in at a whopping 34 seconds.
That’s quite a leap!
The recording shows three blacksmiths working on an anvil in a workshop. However, the men in the picture aren’t real blacksmiths, and neither is the workshop. This makes Blacksmith Scene the earliest known film to feature actors on a set.
It was also the first-ever movie shown to the public using Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope.
The Execution of Mary Stuart - 1895
Here we have the first-ever use of special effects in a movie. The Execution of Mary Stuart was filmed in 1895. It was directed by Alfred Clark and produced by Thomas Edison.
At a running time of 18 seconds, the film depicts the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1584.
The picture utilizes a stop trick to substitute the actor playing Mary with a mannequin to create the illusion of a person being beheaded. This makes The Execution of Mary Stuart the first special effects movie ever made.
At the time, audience members found the movie so believable some thought a woman had actually been decapitated. Nowadays, it’s silly to imagine something like that, but this is a testament to how much technology has advanced since then.
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat - 1896
Perhaps one of the most famous early films, this Lumiere brothers picture famously terrified the audience during its first showing.
Except it likely didn’t.
The movie was first shown in 1896 (not ‘95, as many believe) and was filmed at a railway station at La Ciotat, France. Since then, it has become a legend among 1800s movies. It’s said upon first seeing it, members of the audience ran, fearing the train would run them over.
This is probably an urban legend.
Even today, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat remains the most well-known Lumiere brothers film and perhaps the most famous movie of the 19th century. Because of this, there exists a common misconception that Arrival of a Train is the first film ever made.
While this isn’t true, there’s no denying the Lumiere brothers had a massive influence on the growth of filmography as an art.
Arrival of a Train is one of the many short films they made. The Lumiere brothers then went on tour, showcasing their pictures around Europe in one of the earlier forms of movie theaters.
The House of the Devil - 1896
The House of the Devil might be the earliest known horror film.
Although the title is disputed, the movie was intended to awe and impress rather than instill fear.
Shot in France, and produced by Georges Méliès, The House of the Devil has a running time of over three minutes. It was likely the first silent film of this length.
No, feature films weren’t a thing at that time.
In those days, movies still lacked cinematic techniques that would nowadays be considered normal. The camera remains motionless for the entire time and is almost like watching a play. It’s notable, however, for incorporating special effects like stop tricks.
The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight - 1897
So, what was the first feature-length movie ever made?
A precise answer is difficult to pinpoint, but one candidate is The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight. Released in 1897, this recording of a boxing match clocks in at over 90 minutes long. In fact, at the time, it was the longest movie ever made.
The film was directed by Enoch J. Rector, who used a so-called Latham loop to record the fight. Although its precise origin is still unclear, Rector claimed to have invented the technology.
The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight is notable for one other thing – being the first movie ever shot in widescreen. It was shown in a 1.65:1 aspect ratio, which is pretty close to today's widescreen 1.7:1 aspect ratios.
Only bits of the full recording remain intact today.
A Trip to the Moon - 1902
A legendary film in its own right, A Trip to the Moon, can be credited as the first science fiction movie. It’s the origin of the iconic image of a rocket crashing into the moon’s right eye.
Directed by Georges Méliès (the creator of The House of the Devil), A Trip to the Moon is around 18 minutes long. The French movie depicts a crew of people landing on the moon and interacting with a tribe of alien creatures.
What makes it so unique?
Aside from being the first sci-fi film, it was one of the most ambitious movie pictures ever made at the time. It was a huge project and was a giant financial and logistical undertaking.
However, a Trip to the Moon was a massive success and remains one of the most significant movies in filmmaking.
A Visit to the Seaside - 1908
A Visit to the Seaside was the first color motion picture, filmed in Kinemacolor in 1908. George Albert Smith directed it. While it may not be the most thrilling watch, its technological significance is immense.
It’s a coloring technique used until the mid-1910s before being replaced by its successor - Technicolor.
This doesn’t mean all movies before 1908 were black and white. A Trip to the Moon famously had a color version, so did many others. But these were all colored by hand, frame by frame.
Kinemacolor was the first commercially-used technique to employ color filters. It was a two-color process - one red and one green filter. This meant the first color films lacked the color blue until the introduction of Technicolor.
By now, you should’ve realized that asking what was the first movie ever made is a hard question to answer. The further back in time we go, the more the definition of a “movie” starts to become unclear. The earliest examples like The Horse in Motion aren’t exactly cinema.
Real motion pictures wouldn’t start to emerge until about a decade later, with Roundhay Garden Scene being possibly the first. Also, it wasn’t until the 1890s that the first motion pictures started being shown to the public.
With movies like 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, it was clear this technology could be used to tell captivating stories. Unfortunately, film history’s earliest movies may remain unknown.
The sad reality is that most silent films have been lost to time. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to say for sure what was the oldest movie ever.
Many of the movies on this list were thought to be lost for decades. The House of the Devil, for instance, was only rediscovered in 1988. Many others have been destroyed, either accidentally or deliberately, or simply misplaced.
The overall consensus is that 1888 was the birth of motion pictures. But it’s possible an even earlier film exists out there somewhere.
What was the first sound movie?
The Jazz Singer, from 1927, was the first feature film to have spoken dialogue. However, only a few scenes were fully voiced. The actors had to lip-sync the dialogue, as movie cameras couldn’t record sound yet.
What is the first horror movie?
The House of the Devil (1896) is often called the first horror movie due to its depiction of ghosts and vampires. Later films, namely The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), would revolutionize the genre with eerie and surrealist tones.
When did movies become color?
A Visit to the Seaside (1908) is the first known film shot with color filters. The technique, known as Kinemacolor, was only capable of showing red and green, with no blue. However, due to most silent films being misplaced, it may be impossible to know what was the first color movie ever made.
Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.
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