Pass the ammunition : a short etymology of “Blockbuster"

HALL, Sheldon (2014). Pass the ammunition : a short etymology of “Blockbuster". In: ELLIOTT, Andrew B.R., (ed.) The Return of the Epic Film. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 147-166.


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As a slang term, the word ‘blockbuster’ has enjoyed unusual longevity. First applied on a regular basis to motion pictures in the early 1950s, it has remained in use to this day to become a near-ubiquitous synonym for Hollywood films, especially those that are exceptionally expensive, exceptionally successful or both. Indeed, so commonplace is its contemporary usage that, as the word’s literal roots have been forgotten and its colloquial origins obscured, it has lost any more specific meaning, becoming virtually a byword for mainstream films of all kinds, in much the same way that ‘Hollywood’ itself is often taken to stand for the popular cinema generally rather than for the major American corporations and their product. This chapter explores the etymological history of ‘blockbuster’, from its extra-cinematic coinage in the 1940s to its adoption by the entertainment industry and the trade press and its subsequent widespread acceptance in popular culture at large. It suggests some of the reasons for the term’s particular currency in that period and identifies the first films to be so described, along with exploring the ambivalent attitude of the postwar film industry to the phenomenon of the ‘big picture’.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute > Communication and Computing Research Centre
Identification Number:
Page Range: 147-166
Depositing User: Sheldon Hall
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2013 14:44
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 14:18

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