Essays · Movies

‘Let’s All Go to the Lobby’ Tells the History of the Movie Theater Experience

‘Let’s All Go to the Lobby’ has been playing before features in theaters since 1957, but it does more than entice audiences to buy popcorn.
By  · Published on June 20th, 2017

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably heard the jingle from this short film before. You might have seen it play in theaters or a parody of it on an episode of The Simpsons. I didn’t recognize the title of it when I found out it had an anniversary, but I definitely knew I had seen it before after watching it on Youtube. So before we get into anything, take less than a minute to watch it.

Now that the song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day, let’s talk about why you might recognize it so long after its production. Chicago-based Filmack Studios released the trailer animated by the producer of Popeye, Dave Fleischer, as part of a series of similar Technicolor shorts to promote the newly installed concession stands in theaters across the country. The film has lasted in movie theaters because it does more than its intended purpose to introduce audiences to theaters’ new way of making revenue—it embodies the moment such an intricate part of watching a film in theaters began.

Movies Without Popcorn?

Slate’s Jill Pellettieri tells us there was a time when concession stands didn’t occupy the center of theater lobbies. When Nickelodeon theaters took over the entertainment business from live stage performances, they didn’t have in-house food service. The grand movie theaters that followed nickelodeon theaters like the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles actually refused to allow independent vendors to sell popcorn and peanuts in the aisles of their theaters. They wanted to separate themselves from burlesque houses that allowed food inside. As many of you probably still do, people snuck food into the theaters, leaving owners with the garbage and mess they were trying to avoid.

The 1930s forced theater owners to rethink the idea of allowing audiences to eat in their theaters. Popcorn was a cheap snack that people were willing to spend money on even during the Greate Depression. Theaters began renting out their lobbies to the popcorn vendors that littered the streets outside their theaters. Popcorn even endured rations during the wartime of the 1940s, cementing its place in movie theaters.

As new theaters were being built, food concessions became a part of their architecture. Concession stands were built into the lobbies of theaters everywhere in America and now they needed ads to promote them in case audiences were strong enough to resist them when they made their way to the theater.

Bring in the Snipes

Filmack Trailer Company, as it was known at the time, specialized in the short films that showed before feature presentations called snipes. Snipes included anything that showed before a film except trailers like courtesy shorts asking people to refrain from talking during the film, advertisements for theater loyalty programs like we see now, and promotions for snack bars.

It’s remarkable how little is known about the production of “Let’s All Go to the Lobby.” Even the decedent of the founders of the studio, Robbie Mack is unsure when production officially began because the records have disappeared, as he says in Daniel Eagan’s book “America’s Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in The National Film Registry.” He believes production began in 1955, but it’s possible to have started in 1953. 

What he does know, however, is how the film was released. Instead of renting the rights to show the film, the company sold prints of the film to theaters to own and show for as long as they want. That could explain why they continue to appear in movie theaters. Mark estimates that the short film has played in 80% independent theaters at one point in time and he continues to sell from 50 to 100 prints of the film today. 

What also makes the short film so legendary is its simplicity. It uses the melody from the same tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” which has an unknown origin but has been around since at least 1738. On top of a song many people already knew, the film uses repetitive and catchy lyrics that you’ll likely be singing in your head through the first few minutes of the feature film. Fleischer also deliberately chose to avoid using brand names on the animated refreshments, making it relevant no matter what companies they were sponsoring. Although concession stands have expanded to items like nachos and alcohol, the popcorn and soda in the short are still the main attraction at concession stands. 

Not only can “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” last in today’s movie theaters, but it also represents the history of the beginning of concession stands. It documents the era in which it was made while transcending into becoming a staple in the theater-going experience—so much so that it has even infiltrated fictional depictions of theaters. 

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_