Here's Why We Eat Popcorn At the Movies

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America is nothing if not a joyfully gluttonous society. And while our nation's greatest minds make valiant strides toward detaching our desire to binge on crap from the previously vexing constraints of time and place, certain foods are still tied inextricably to specific events.

For example: movie theater popcorn. Sure, you can make popcorn at home. Where but the movie theater, however, do you feel perfectly good about pressing a button and drenching your snack with a hot, chemical liquid that makes no claims to even remotely resemble butter, then absentmindedly shoving heaping, greasy fistfuls of the stuff into your face in public?


The good folks at Mental Floss, inquisitive fellows that they are, wanted to find out the origins of this Pavlovian response to setting foot inside a multiplex.

The result: In the latest episode of their Big Questions video series, host Craig Benzine reports that the pairing hasn't been around that long at all. In the 18th century, popcorn was a common treat associated with the circus and other "lowbrow," outdoor entertainment venues. Movies, on the other hand, were more akin to live theater, the province of middle- to upper-class patrons of the arts. It wasn't until the Great Depression -- when the movie industry at large benefited from Americans' need for cheap, accessible distraction -- that popcorn vendors were allowed indoors, as long as they paid the theater owners a daily fee.


Flash forward 80 years later, and you find that movie theaters (which are struggling, thanks to the rise of at-home streaming as well as costly digital conversion expenses) have come to rely on the buttery delight they previously shunned: According to Benzine, concessions currently account for 85 percent of theaters' profits nationally, and 40 percent of their total revenue.

"That's not surprising at all," you're probably saying, wiping your mouth with the back of your hand, if you've somehow come up for air during a rare break from cramming the salty, addictive food of the gods down your gullet. "This bucket cost $12."

The more you know!