How profitable were cartoons in the old days?

How profitable were cartoons in the old days? Did showing a bunch of 6 minute shorts before a full movie actually bring in the dough?

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  1. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    In the old days the theater didn't have a choice. If you wanted to lease some reels of Casablanca you would also be leasing some Bugs Bunny cartoon

    That's how cartoons got their budget until like the mid 50s when theaters were allowed to choose if they actually wanted the cartoon

    • 4 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Also by the 50s, there were TV cartoons and TV news so they wouldn't be as much of a motivator to see a film. Although Universal kept Lanz going longer than you'd think doing theatricals.

      • 4 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        and as soon as theaters got the choice, they stopped buying cartoons and newsreels, and both of them pretty much died

    • 4 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      My guess is that they showed 1 or 2 cartoons then a news reel and then the movie.

      • 4 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        Or a cartoon and a live action short like 3 Stooges for Columbia (and I can say, Stooges shorts are way better than Color Rhapsodies.)

    • 4 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Also by the 50s, there were TV cartoons and TV news so they wouldn't be as much of a motivator to see a film. Although Universal kept Lanz going longer than you'd think doing theatricals.

      aka block-booking, which was the standard practice of the film industry until United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc outlawed it in 1948 on the grounds of anti-trust laws.

      The main point of block-booking allowed studios to hedge their bets by selling their best work along with their worst, giving them a more even revenue stream. Ending the system meant that each film had to stand on its own merits, and over time the animated short proved to be unprofitable in the new system. It didn't happen overnight but gradually over the 1950s (the 50s was also the decade that UPA's more minimalist animation style rose to prominence, probably not by coincidence).

      Fleischer Studios in particular went under well before this shakeup though, they were going over budget on several projects in the late 30s and early 40s with some overly ambitious productions attempting to compete with Disney's foray into animated features. Add to this various amounts of drama between the founders and their era ended with the studio's acquisition by Paramount in 1941.

  2. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Yes. Hearst used to put cartoons in their newsreel packages and people would see movies with those newsreels. That's why every major studio had animated shorts. Because if it wasn't a way to make a buck, the studio heads wouldn't have paid for them. Even into the 80s and 90s, they'd promote new shorts. I remember being more excited for a new Roger Rabbit cartoon than Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I remember there being more hype on the Mickey Mouse Runaway Brain cartoon than A Kid in King Arthur's Court and Carrotblanca being way more important than some dumb panda movie.

    • 4 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      >Even into the 80s and 90s, they'd promote new shorts. I remember being more excited for a new Roger Rabbit cartoon than Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I remember there being more hype on the Mickey Mouse Runaway Brain cartoon than A Kid in King Arthur's Court and Carrotblanca being way more important than some dumb panda movie.

      But those were the exceptions and reallu only Disney and Warner kept dping them.

      • 4 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        I recall it was only Disney a couple of times. And they only made shorts in the early 90s because that was what the brand new Florida studio was making. That is why there were Roger Rabbit cartoons for a few movies around 89-92. It was for the cartoon studio attraction in MGM studios, but they made theater shorts as a result.

        It was Pixar that brought the shorts before movies back, something disney started imitating around 2006. Now each feature has a short before it.

  3. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    it's hard to find an answer to this honestly. it makes sense that a popular cartoon would put butts in seats, but so would a popular movie. i would assume that having the new disney or warner bros cartoon on your reel would bring in people that might not be interested in the main feature. disney consistently putting out shorts probably also helped with branding and getting people interested in their feature-length movies.

    i feel like cartoons definitely became more profitable in the 60s and 70s with hanna barbera slop having no budgets but getting crazy ratings. then by the time of Reagan there was a ton of money to be made with the toy-commercial cartoons

    i guess that sort of explains why companies don't give a frick about making animated tv shows anymore - unless they're hugely successful there's no money to be made

    • 4 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      You have to remember that rigorous quantified market research was not a thing back then. It made intuitive sense that people would pay more for a movie ticket if they felt they were getting more out of it than just the movie, so add-ons like newsreels, serials and cartoons were assumed to be good business. Also, before television people would go spend their whole evening at the movie theatre, a typical session was two features plus shorts, so they needed to pad out that time with something.

      • 4 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        When did that changed? When TV came out?

        • 4 weeks ago
          Anonymous

          Yes, film executives were terrified that television would take away their audience, much like how today people say YouTube and TikTok take away movie/comic/TV audiences. There’s always been a fear of new markets, and in fairness they’re not wrong. I never watch TV at all, even streaming stuff, because why would I when I can play Helldivers for a couple of hours? Incidentally this is what led to 3D movies and the push for blockbusters and epics back in the ‘60’s, because then movies would become these huge events that couldn’t be replicated at home.

          • 4 weeks ago
            Anonymous

            When did that changed? When TV came out?

            To add to that, home media didn’t exist, so when a movie came out the only way you could watch it again was to see it at the cinema. Sometimes they’d re-release a film but only if it was exceptionally popular, or they’d remake it.

            • 4 weeks ago
              Anonymous

              Living in a time where people complain if something hasn't been available in physical media for some years, it's crazy to think there was a time you had to completely rely on your local theaters to watch movies

              • 4 weeks ago
                Anonymous

                Disney were notorious for being stingy with VHS releases, hence the term ‘Disney Vault’. Before they’d periodically re-release one of their classics in the theatres and felt that selling a VHS would undercut that, so they opted to release certain films on home video but only for a limited time. Of course nowadays most things go on streaming and home releases become increasingly niche across the board.

      • 4 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        The reason why the sentence “double feature” exists

  4. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Do they still show shorts before movies in theaters anywhere? Here it's only movie trailers and the PSAs for people to turn off their cellphones.

    • 4 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Only Disney and Pixar do it.

  5. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Hard to say? They were popular, sure, but animation companies were never stable or had any sense of financial security. Even Disney felt like it was constantly hedging its bets on the latest movie was a hit, lest it shut down entirely.

  6. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    The cartoons then were given fricking massive budgets, something that could pay for a mediocre cartoon today. I imagine someone liked them if the studios were willing to toss that much money their way.

  7. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    In order to figure out the profit is first you have to account for all the things Anons have mentioned so far plus the fact that shorts were advertisements for music/soundtracks that production companies were selling.

    One thing most people forget is that these shorts were made to sell music, even more so once we get to the period where characters developed personalities.

    There's also getting rid of the numbers where theaters sold their reels to cheaper theaters after a run was completed.

    From my research in animation history, no one has touched on the economic history of the industry. At best you'll get broad estimations, but no real hard numbers.

    If you want your answer you're pretty much working on your dissertation or even setting yourself up to make a career out of it researching sales.

  8. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    ?t=6

  9. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Cartoons would be paid by the studios directly to show them in theaters. This meant there wasn’t anything they could earn in terms of box office, but they got contract work. Theoretically, if a series was really unpopular the studio could stop supporting it/order them to stop depending on how much stake they had in their production decisions.

    This ALSO meant if a cartoon series was performing incredibly well, there was no extra incentive for the studios to reward the people making cartoons. They could just accept the turnout themselves and pay the same rates for more shorts. This is the exact reason why Disney pivoted into making full-length films, starting with Snow White. He wanted to have full ownership of his box office receipts without some arbitrary “ceiling”.

  10. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    I still remember when spumdonor becomes a Fleischer fan account for a moment. Bumping with an image so this won't be a generic literature board thread.

  11. 4 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    That is one cool looking skeleton design for an old timey cartoon.

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