30 October 2021

Movie Firsts

I am, and have always been, fascinated by movies. Al kinds of movies, although I mostly like mystery/crime and westerns--a result, probably, of growing up in the fifties and sixties, when you couldn't turn on a TV without seeing a detective or a cowboy. But I'll watch almost anything. The other night when one of our sons and his son were visiting, we ordered pizzas and watched an old DVD of Aliens (possibly the best sequel in movie history, along with Godfather II)--and I loved it as much as the first time I saw it, in a theater in Atlanta 35 years ago. And over the past month I've re-watched The Big Lebowski, Jaws, The Birds, Rudy, The Guns of Navarone, and The Princess Bride, all of which are in a galaxy far, far away from mysteries and westerns.

I also love facts about movies, some of them pretty obscure. We got to talking, during our kid-and-grandkid movie night last week, about which movies were the first to do this or the first to feature that, and I of course felt compelled to sit down later and try to put together a list. I mean, somebody has to, right? You can't just pass up a topic like that.

So . . . here are some cinematic "firsts."

NOTE: These are only those firsts that I found particularly interesting. For example, I don't much care what movie was the first to open in Saudi Arabia or to use IMAX 12-channel sound, but I do care what movie was the first to show a killer shark or time travel or a flushing toilet. Call this a low-tech, unsophisticated list.

First movie -- Roundhay Garden Scene, director Louis Le Prince, 1888

First U.S. movie -- Monkeyshines, William Kennedy Dickson and William Heise, 1889

First comedy -- The Waterer Watered, 1895

First horror movie -- House of the Devil, 1896 (a short silent film)

First Shakespeare adaptation -- King John, 1899

First Sherlock Holmes movie -- Sherlock Holmes Baffled, 1900 (produced to be viewed on coin-operated machines)

First science fiction movie -- A Trip to the Moon, 1902

First western -- The Great Train Robbery, 1903

First feature film -- The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906

First Hollywood movie -- In Old California, director D.W. Griffith, 1910

First big-budget Hollywood epic -- Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith, 1915

First sequel -- Fall of a Nation, Thomas Dixon, Jr., 1916

First remake -- The Squaw Man, Cecil B. DeMille, 1918 (the original was in 1914)

First movie with a twist ending -- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920

First time-travel movie -- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1921

First movie to cost $ 1 million -- Foolish Wives, 1922

First Hitchcock movie -- Always Tell Your Wife, 1923

First "talkie" -- The Jazz Singer, 1927

First movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture -- Wings, William A. Wellman, 1927

First musical -- The Broadway Melody, 1929

First movie to show a television set -- Elstree Calling, Alfred Hitchcock, 1930

First western to win Best Picture -- Cimarron, 1930

First movie shown on TV -- The Crooked Circle, 1933

First romantic comedy to win Best Picture -- It Happened One Night, 1934 (also the first movie to show a bride leaving her fiancé at the altar)

First Disney movie -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937

First movie to use the Wilhelm scream -- Distant Drums, 1941 (I'm thinking this might be a SleuthSayers post in the near future)

First 3-D feature film -- Robinson Crusoe, 1947

First movie to offer profit-sharing for its star -- Winchester '73, 1950 (James Stewart)

First to mention the word "pizza" -- The Band Wagon, 1953

First to use a rock song in a soundtrack -- Blackboard Jungle, 1955 ("Rock Around the Clock")

First to feature a man-eating shark -- The Sharkfighters, 1956

First to show an interracial kiss -- Island in the Sun, 1957

First to show a flushing toilet -- Psycho, 1960

First to use the fake phone prefix "555" -- Panic in the Year Zero, 1962

First to show a GPS device -- Goldfinger, 1964

First to show a karate fight scene -- The Manchurian Candidate, 1964

First to show a post-credit scene -- The Silencers. 1966

First to drop the F-bomb -- I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, 1967 (second bombing: M*A*S*H, 1970)

First G-rated movie to win Best Picture -- Oliver!, 1969

First (and only) X-rated movie to win Best Picture -- Midnight Cowboy, 1970 (this was of course an early rating system; MC would currently be a mild R)

First R-rated movie to win Best Picture -- The French Connection, 1971

First movie to show a condom -- Carnal Knowledge, 1971

First sequel to win Best Picture -- The Godfather Part II, 1974

First movie to make $ 100 million -- Jaws, 1975

First movie shot entirely by natural candlelight -- Barry Lyndon, 1975

First to be released on VHS -- The Young Teacher, 1976

First to list the entire crew in the closing credits -- Star Wars, 1977 (also the first to make $ 400 million) 

First big-budget superhero film -- Superman, 1978

First movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch -- The Blues Brothers, 1980

First movie made for a cable network -- The Terry Fox Story, 1983 (HBO)

First PG-13 movie -- Red Dawn, 1984

First movie to show a cell phone -- Lethal Weapon, 1987

First to sell a million copies on home video -- Dirty Dancing, 1887

First NC-17 movie -- Henry and June, 1990

First (and only) horror movie to win Best Picture -- The Silence of the Lambs, 1991 (this is what the record books say, but I don't agree that it's a horror movie)

First movie to show virtual reality -- The Lawnmower Man, 1992

First to cost $ 100 million -- True Lies, 1994

First feature film to be made entirely using CGI -- Toy Story, 1995

First movie to cost $ 200 million (and to make $ 1 billion) -- Titanic, 1997

First movie released on DVD -- Twister, 1997

First to make $ 100 million in its opening weekend -- Spider-Man, 2002

First to use motion capture for all actors -- The Polar Express, 2004

First to show on-screen texting -- Sex Drive, 2008

First to make $ 2 billion -- Avatar, 2009

First (and only) science fiction movie to win Best Picture -- The Shape of Water, 2017

First non-English-language movie to win Best Picture -- Parasite, 2019 (South Korean)

First movie to open nationwide since the start of the pandemic -- Unhinged, 2020

First to make $ 100 million since start of the pandemic -- A Quiet Place Part II, 2021


I learned a few things in coming up with this list, and found I was badly mistaken about a few. Can you think of some firsts that I missed? First Chuck Norris Shakespeare adaptation? First Whoopi Goldberg western? Seriously, let me know in the comments section.

Next time, back to mystery writing--thanks for indulging me.

See you in a week!


  1. Hey, John. As a film-history teacher, I enjoyed your post enormously. There are a couple of things with which I'd take issue, though.

    • Edwin S. Porter's Great Train Robbery dates to 1903, not 1905.

    • Hitchcock's "first movie" is tricky: he art-directed films in 1922 and directed the unfinished Number 13 that year. Yes, the first finished film he directed was Always Tell Your Wife in '23, but he wasn't credited. The first film he directed, finished, and received credit for was The Pleasure Garden in '25.

    The Jazz Singer was the first feature-length talkie, but the first feature film with a synchronized sound track was Don Juan the previous year, and there were shorts with synchronized music and singing earlier than that ... and something we call The Dickson Experimental Sound Film was made in 1894! (See https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2020/5/26/sound-history-in-film-early-recording)

    • A little-known bit of AMPAS trivia is that there were two best-movie Academy Awards given out at the first awards ceremony in 1928. One was indeed Wings, and that one was called Best Picture, but there was also an award for "Best Production," which went to German director F.W. Murnau's first Hollywood film, Sunrise.

    • And, as noted above, there were musical shorts well before The Broadway Melody.

    I'll add one first to your list: first person to win an acting Oscar for a performance in which he or she spoke not a word of English. And the winner is ... Jane Wyman for her role in Johnny Belinda (1948).

    1. Josh, thanks for the corrections. The date on The Great Train Robbery was a case of my typing the wrong number--it's now fixed. And I knew about the two awards in 1928 but did NOT know those facts about Hitch or The Jazz Singer or The Broadway Melody--interesting!! I also love the "first" about Jane Wyman.

      Things I forgot to mention--I think It Happened One Night won four more Oscars besides Best Picture: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Writing, and Best Director--and so did The Silence of the Lambs.

      I suspect that your classes on film history are a blast, both for you AND the students. Sounds like more fun than work, to me! Wish I could take your course.

    2. Thanks, John. Yes, It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs are two of the only three films to have won all five of the major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Writing.

      Now what was the other one? (Hint: It came out after It Happened One Night and before The Silence of the Lambs....)

    3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Note: The thing I remember most about the awards for Cuckoo's Nest was Jack Nicholson's acceptance speech. It's on YouTube, and it's great.

  2. Replies
    1. O'Neil -- I had to look it up, and it's a good thing I did, because I was wrong. Apparently it was The Killers, in 1964, a remake of the feature film from several years earlier. Right?

    2. Actually, John, The Killers is inkee-rect. It was intended to be the first made-for-TV movie (directed by Don Siegel, a remake of the 1946 film noir), but was ultimately considered too violent for television and released in theaters.

      The first made-for-TV movie to actually show on TV seems to have been 1964's See How They Run, with John Forsythe, Senta Berger, and another Jane W, but this one Jane Wyatt....

    3. Josh, I sit corrected again. BUT . . . my lawyer (from the firm Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe) said, just before leaving to chase another ambulance, that the question was "first MADE-for-TV movie," not "first to be shown." So . . .

    4. You have me there, John! I can't argue with your logic!

    5. Well, the truth is, I didn't even know about See How They Run. I seriously wish I could take that film history class of yours.

  3. What a wonderful list! I've had fun revisiting so many forgotten films, John. Thank you for this :)

    1. I had a good time trying to remember (and find) all this stuff, Melodie. My memory only went so far, and even my supposedly reliable sources weren't always right, but it was still fun. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I would pay to see Chuck Norris go Shakespeare. He could be a mega-avenging Mark Antony or throw us a curveball with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you, Gene! This is one of those that was a lot of fun to put together.

  6. The Little Match Seller>, a 1902 adaptation of the 1845 Hans Christian Andersen story, The Little Match Girl, must have one or two firsts, possibly first Christmas tearjerker. It's notable for its dramatic (as opposed to comedic) special effects. Cyndi Lauper used a cut in her song, 'December Child'. It was remade in 1908, 1914, 1928, and many times thereafter.

    1. The first of many, many Christmas tearjerkers, right? Leigh, I learn something every time I swap notes with you.


  7. Primal Fear (one of my fave all-time movies) was Edward Norton's first movie. He was among 2,100 actors who auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler. Believe it or not, Leonardo DiCaprio was the producers' first pick for Aaron/Roy (love Leo but, nope).

    1. I love that one too, Judy. One of the best examples, ever, of a twist ending.

      I knew that was the first time I'd seen Norton in a movie, but didn't realize it was his very first. 2100 actors??

      Thanks for the note!

  8. Great list, John. Some real eye-openers here.

    1. Thanks, Mike! I knew some of these firsts already, but had to dig around for the rest. I think the ones that surprised me the most were those that won Best Picture first and those that reached box-office financial milestones first. (I've later learned that Avatar's lifetime gross was almost $3 billion--unbelievable.)


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