The Art of Selling Movies

The Art of Selling Movies

by John McElwee


From the silents through the mid-1960s, the Classic Era of American Cinema saw men and women with no aptitude for art become artists, wizards with words, master persuaders. Unlike other ad folk, theatre operators sold nothing more tangible than a couple hours’ amusement, and gave customers nothing to carry home beyond memories each hoped would be pleasant. Creating powerful, compelling advertisements wasn’t merely a matter of friendly competition between clever marketers – it was what the very livelihood of small-town theatre managers and cinema bigwigs alike depended on.

In The Art of Selling Movies [GoodKnight Books, February 28, 2017], lifelong film enthusiast and noted historian John McElwee reveals how the promise of happy times was aggressively marketed daily amidst heated competition in the Amusement Pages of U.S. newspapers, creating a thriving industry that continues to influence American culture today.

Unlike other classic film interest books, The Art of Selling Movies shifts the spotlight away from great directors and iconic stars in favor of the “faceless folk” who awoke desire for movies in the masses. A vibrant full-color, 300-plus-page hardcover featuring hundreds of never-before-seen images and clippings (painstakingly restored using technology that has only made such restoration possible in the past decade), in The Art of Selling Movies, McElwee also explores the intersection of commercialism, folk art, fine art, newspaper production, and regional demographics.


Movies are so part of our thread of existence now. We go any chance we get: date night, family night, bored, whatever. We all have our reasons for going. This book is a collection of movie ads that convinced people to get out and go see them. But more than that, this book shows the evolution and the acculturation of “instilling the movie habit”. I sidled up to youtube while I was reading this. A lot of the movies in here are on youtube, if not in there entirety, in snippets. This is a great book for true movie buffs, anyone interested in ever-changing culture, pop culture, advertising, or art posters. I think this is a thoughtful coffee table book too. The book is full of pictures of movie ads and little captions about each one, which in many cases includes the intended audience reaction for the time and, or the comments about the design of the ad.