Hollywood and the Great Depression


The Great Depression had a telling effect on the economies the world over. America was not untouched and the society and culture also faced the brunt of it. The stock market crash began in 1929 and at the peak of the Depression in 1933, about 25% of the American population was unemployed. Even in such grim economic times, Hollywood movies provided a glimmer of hope to the masses. The people were galvanized by the movies and it helped to glue to society together. The article provides insights on the impact of Great Depression on Hollywood and how Hollywood contributed to the society during the tough times.    

Impact on Hollywood

The Great Depression had a significant impact on Hollywood. The cost and schedule of the movies had to be reworked to cope with the financial crisis. The Great Depression took its toll on the major production studios also. Three eminent production studios-Paramount, Fox, and RKO- went to bankruptcy and receivership in the year 1933. During these tough economic times, MGM studios were the only one to remain profitable. It had become the most profitable and lucrative production studio in Hollywood during the troubling times of the Great Depression. In fact, the MGM studios have made the most successful movies during the period 1927-1932, which coincided with the Great Depression.

The Depression also had an adverse impact on the movie theatres. The number of moviegoers never dipped below 60 million people per week even in the peak of the Depression, however, the corresponding weekly attendance before the financial crisis was about 90 million. Hence, the weekly attendance of the movie theatres was reduced by one-third. This impacted the operations and profitability of the movie theatres and of the 22,000 theatres which were functional in 1930, only 14,000 could survive till 1934.

Hollywood’s Contribution to the Society

Hollywood made significant contributions to the American society during the financial turmoil. It played an important psychological role during the Great Depression. It provided reassurance to a demoralized nation and kept them bonded together with hope and belief. Even during the peak of the Great Depression, the weekly movie attendance was about 60-70 million. Movies became the popular and the primary choice of entertainment for a crestfallen and highly unemployed country.

Hollywood starting making comedy movies which expressed disdain for the traditional institutions and values. These movies spoofed class structures, education system, patriotism etc. Movies generally depicted class struggles between the rich and the poor. These movies took sides of the poor and depicted the richer class as inept and insensitive. They also promoted the principle of equality and a classless society which became a popular notion with the American society during the period of the Great Depression. Movies made during this time captured the harsh realities but they also depicted happy endings which gave rise to positive sentiments among moviegoers.


The Great Depression was the most significant socio-economic event of that time and it had a significant impact on the American culture and society. It impacted the movie making in Hollywood which had to face a financial crisis of its own. Hollywood however, played an instrumental role in keeping the society together and ignite hope and belief in the masses about a better future.