36 Film History Firsts

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In a little over a century, film has evolved from a technological novelty into one of the world's most popular forms of entertainment. Here are some of film history's most important milestones (with a focus on the history of Hollywood), from the first sound film to the first flushing toilet shown on screen.

1. First Film: Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

Considered the first film made with a moving picture camera, and shot by French inventor Louis Le Prince, Roundhay Garden Scene runs a mere 2.11 seconds.

2. First Sound Film: Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894/1895)

While working for Thomas Edison, William Dickson recorded the first experimental sound film, featuring a violin player scratching out a crude melody.

3. First Color Film: Annabelle Butterfly Dance (1894)

The short film wasn't shot on color film—rather, it was tinted by hand, one frame at a time. 

4. First Kiss on Film: The Kiss (1896)

The 30-second film, featuring two Broadway stars making out, was the "most popular film" produced by Thomas Edison's company that year. It may also have been one of the first films to incite demands for censorship.

5. First Shakespeare Adaptation: King John (1899)

The short film, which is just over one minute long, featured King John's death scene. It was likely made as a sort of trailer for the play's stage production.

6. First Sherlock Holmes Film: Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most frequently portrayed characters in film history. The earliest known film to feature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective is this 30-second film that was originally produced to be viewed in coin-operated Mutoscope machines.

7. First Female American Director: Lois Weber (1914)

Weber became the first American woman to direct a feature film in 1914, with her adaptation of The Merchant of Venice.

8. First Film To Show Full Frontal Nudity: Hypocrites (1915)

Lois Weber was also the first director to shoot a scene featuring full frontal female nudity, in Hypocrites, which explored the hypocrisy of organized religion—and incited riots in New York according to Ms. magazine.

9. First Body Swap Film: Vice Versa (1916)

Based on the popular 1882 novel, in which a pompous father swaps bodies with his schoolboy son, 1916's Vice Versa was just the first of several adaptations, the most famous being the 1988 version starring Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold. 

10. First Remake: The Squaw Man (1918)

Cecil B. 

DeMille loved this film so much, he not only directed the original, released in 1914, but directed two remakes of it—one in 1918 and another in 1931. 

11. First Time Travel Film: A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1921)

It was also one of the earliest Mark Twain adaptations.

12. First 3D Film: The Power of Love (1922)

3D films might feel like a modern fad, but directors have been experimenting with the technique since the early days of film. While 3D films didn't really catch on until the 

1950s, The Power of Love, which used red and green "anaglyph" 3D glasses, premiered way back in 1922 (unfortunately, the film is now lost). 

13. First Second-Generation Movie Star: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. 

Son of Douglas Fairbanks, the silent era's greatest heartthrob, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. appeared in films and TV shows through the 1980s, and was briefly married to Joan Crawford.

14. First Film Shown on an Airplane: The Lost World (1925)

While the short documentary Howdy Chicago! (essentially a promotional film for the Windy City) was presented on flights as early as 1921, The Lost World, a dinosaur epic based on a 1912 Arthur Conan Doyle novel, was the first in-flight feature film.

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15. First Film To Win Best Picture at the Academy Awards: Wings (1927)

It was the only fully silent film to win Best Picture.

16. First "All-Talking, All-Singing, All-Dancing" Film: The Broadway Melody (1929)

The film won Best Picture at the second Academy Awards.

17. First Film Shown on TV: The Crooked Circle (1933)

Few people even owned a TV in the early 1930s, but those half a dozen or so who not only had a TV, but lived in the Los Angeles area, were treated to the 1932 detective flick on March 10, 1933.

18. First Animated Feature: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937)

People warned Walt Disney the film would be a flop, arguing adults wouldn't want to sit through a full-length animated movie. But against all odds, the film was a hit: Critics loved it, and comedian Charlie Chaplin even told The Los Angeles Times, "In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.”

19. First African American Artist to Win an Oscar: Hattie McDaniel

McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Gone With The Wind in 1940.

20. First Actor To Play Batman: Lewis G. Wilson

A lot of people think of Adam West as the original Batman (and his portrayal was definitely iconic), but Lewis Wilson was the original film Batman, playing the Caped Crusader in Columbia Pictures' 1943 15-chapter serial

21. First Film to Show a Flushing Toilet: Psycho (1960)

Today's audiences wouldn't give a flushing toilet a second glance, but back in the 1950s and early '60s, it was considered offensive imagery by many.

22. First Actor to Play James Bond: Sean Connery (1962)

Though six other actors have gone on to play 007, Connery introduced the secret agent to the world in 1962's Dr. No. 

23. First G-Rated Movie To Win Best Picture: Oliver! (1969)

Based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the British musical was the first—and so far only—G-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

24. First X-Rated Movie To Win Best Picture: Midnight Cowboy (1970)

Just one year after Oliver! became the first G-rated Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy became the first and only X-rated film to win the same accolade. In 1990, the MPAA replaced its X rating with an NC-17 label, which means Midnight Cowboy will forever be the only X-rated film with a Best Picture trophy.

25. First Movie To Show a Condom: Carnal Knowledge (1971)

The film was considered scandalous in its time, provoking protests from both conservatives (who thought it was indecent), and liberals (who thought it was misogynistic).

26. First Hollywood Film To Use 2D CGI: Westworld (1973)

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, the film used 2D computer animated images for its robot vision sequences. 

27. First Film Released on VHS: The Young Teacher (1976)

Four years after its 1972 theatrical release, the South Korean drama The Young Teacher was released on VHS in 1976. The first three American films released, meanwhile, were The Sound of Music, Patton, and MASH.

28. First Film Based on a Saturday Night Live sketch: The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Dan Aykroyd-John Belushi film was so popular, it inspired 10 other SNL films.

29. First PG-13 Movie: Red Dawn (1984)

Until the 1980s, there were only four ratings a movie could receive: G, PG, R, or X. It was actually the second Indiana Jones movieIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, that inspired the creation of a new rating—PG13—in between PG and R. 

30. First Movie to Show a Character Using a Cell Phone: Lethal Weapon (1987)

In the film, Danny Glover's Detective Roger 

Murtaugh toted an approximately two-pound cell phone.

31. First Animated Film to Be Nominated For Best Picture: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

It lost to The Silence of the Lambs.

32. First Feature-Length Animated CGI Film: Toy Story (1995)

It was Pixar's first feature film.

33. First Film Released on DVD: Twister (1996)

It was also one of the last movies to be released on HD DVD, the format that lost out to Blu-ray.

34. First Film To Gross $1 Billion: Titanic (1997)

It was the highest grossing film of all time until director James Cameron beat his own record with 2009's Avatar (though most Hollywood insiders expect that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will bypass Avatar's box office tally in the next few days).

35. First Computer Animated Motion Capture Film: Polar Express (2004)

Director Robert Zemeckis used motion capture technology to animate Tom Hanks.

36. First Woman to Win a Best Director Oscar: Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2010.