Watch Moviegoers’ Terrified Reactions to ’The Exorcist’ When It Premiered in 1973

All was not merry and bright for some moviegoers who spent the day after Christmas 1973 witnessing the many horrors of William Friedkin’s ’The Exorcist.’
'The Exorcist' arrived in theaters the day after Christmas in 1973—and promptly traumatized audiences.
'The Exorcist' arrived in theaters the day after Christmas in 1973—and promptly traumatized audiences. / Evening Standard/GettyImages

David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer is already scaring up some impressive numbers at the box office. But it’s hard to imagine that his latest classic horror movie reboot could ever have the same impact The Exorcist had when it first came out in 1973. Because to mainstream audiences at the time, William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning picture was unlike anything they had ever witnessed.

As you can see from the video below, thousands of moviegoers rushed to theaters to experience the groundbreaking film when it debuted nearly 50 years ago—and many exited the theater just as quickly when the scares proved too much for them to handle.

This short documentary shows footage from The Exorcist’s historic theatrical run. Lines to see the movie stretched so far that some cinemas provided coffee to their ever-patient moviegoers. And when the some viewers’ reaction to the film became an issue, they also started handing out barf bags.

By today’s standards, the effects in the originalThe Exorcist aren’t particularly violent. The most disturbing scenes involve Linda Blair vomiting pea soup and spinning her head 180°—images that have been parodied countless times. But the movie provoked extreme responses in viewers seeing it for the first time decades ago. Many moviegoers puked, fainted, or fled to the lobby. Some theaters even had ambulances parked outside ready to attend to overstimulated guests.

Despite being unwatchable for some, The Exorcist was able to attract enough viewers to break box office records. You can hear the firsthand reactions of 1973 audiences above.

A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2023.