MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Hit Movies Are Called “Blockbusters”

When you hear the word “blockbuster” mentioned, it’s usually about movies, (either a flick that was a huge box office success or a certain now-defunct chain of video rental stores). Yet, while the word’s meaning is pretty innocuous now, “blockbuster” actually used to describe something pretty dark.

Back in the 1940s, “blockbusters” were actually large, destructive World War 2 bombs. TIME magazine first printed the word “blockbuster” in 1942, in a November 29 article about an Allied bombing in Italy. That particular nickname was given because of the bomb’s ability to annihilate an entire city block. Then, as the bombs continued to drop throughout the war, the name “blockbuster” caught on & began being used to refer to anything particularly explosive or elaborate.

More recently, the 1975 movie Jaws is widely considered to be the first summer blockbuster. But Hollywood’s association with the word predates Jaws by a few decades. Before “blockbuster” meant a box office hit, it was used to describe any bold or noteworthy production. By the mid-50s, film producer Max E. Youngstein had defined a blockbuster to be any movie that earned over $2 million.

Nowadays, there’s no predetermined amount that a film needs to make before being considered a blockbuster. Overall, movies that earn big box office bucks fit the definition, even if their content isn’t particularly explosive.

But, now that you know this blockbuster Mundane Mystery, if you’ve got one you’d like solved, send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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