How were blockbusters called before the word blockbuster came along? I mean major productions, historical epics and prestige films of the 1930s, e.g. Gone with the Wind (the term "prestige film" is also quite a latecomer). I believe Germans have the word Großfilm…

I guess I want to emphasize more the monumentalism and expense of the film rather than it’s actual box office success. Has anyone encountered some old expressive words for such films?

1 Answer 1


Successful films were called hits long before they were ever blockbusters (c. 1942).

From Etymonline.com:

hit n
Meaning "successful play, song, person," etc., 1811, is from the verbal sense of "to hit the mark, succeed" (c. 1400).

You can see that the term hit pre-dates motion pictures entirely, and it was used in the sense of a "hit movie" for the entire period (and still is).

  • Hit is something I considered and thanks for pointing out its old origins. However, I guess I am looking for words that would connote the prestigiousness and high production values of these films, something that also Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini tried to imitate with their expensive major releases in the 1930s... Sep 10, 2017 at 0:47
  • So ... you'd like to invent a word that was never used? That's pretty vain, even for an Ayn Rand character.
    – Robusto
    Sep 10, 2017 at 1:01
  • I’m looking for words that were used at the time; maybe something that has been forgotten Sep 10, 2017 at 1:37
  • The question is now very confused, but the handful of "most significant" films (Star Wars, Gone with the Wind, Sound of Music) are sometimes called, say, "iconic", "landmark", "industry defining" and so on. Note that (many) "blockbusters" are crappy, cheaply made films; blockbuster, hit etc seem to have no connection to what is being asked, really.
    – Fattie
    Jan 7, 2019 at 12:43

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