Defining a typology of cinemas across 1950s Europe




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This article presents a new typology of cinemas standardized across seven European cities Bari (Italy), Leicester (United Kingdom), Ghent (Belgium), Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Gothenburg (Sweden), Brno (Czechoslovakia) and Magdeburg (East Germany) and developed within the European Cinema Audiences (ECA) research project, through a cross-analysis of film exhibition and programming in the 1950s. Our contribution addresses the lack of a Europe-wide classification of cinema theatres in the period under scrutiny, which is necessary for any cross-national comparative analysis of the exhibition sector. The article is divided into three sections. In the first section it presents the methodology adopted by the project, aiming to replace missing ticket prices for cinema admission with a “price proxy”. This was used to determine cinema weightings and ranking. Our methodology expands on the limited criterion of seating capacity as the basis of classifying cinemas (Browning & Sorrell, 1952), by taking into account also exhibitors’ programming strategies. The second section illustrates a systematic classification of the types of cinemas across Europe according to the proposed new common characteristics. This section explains the different categories (elite, major, intermediate and minor cinemas) and demonstrates how they apply across our dataset, based on geography, the characteristics of the films screened (such as nationality, year, and genre), and the programming strategies for the Top 20 longest screening films in the respective case-study cities. The final section focuses on the discussion of case-study films emerging from the programming in the seven cities. On the one hand, it gives a better understanding of the hierarchy of the film exhibition structure in 1950s Europe, and, on the other hand, it explains how cinemas belonging to a specific category performed and operated in terms of programming not only within the local market in a given city, but also cross-nationally in the seven European cities. Hopefully the ECA cinema typology can be used and adapted to other geographical and cultural contexts.


open access article


Cinema History, Cinema Audiences Studies


Treveri-Gennari, D. Van de Vijver, L. and Ercole, P. (2021) Defining a typology of cinemas across 1950s Europe. Participations, 18 (2). pp. 395-418 Available from:


Research Institute

Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI)