Chronological Timeline of the History of Film and Animation


Here is a chronological timeline of cinema and animation history. I’ve included major technological breakthroughs, genre developments, acting developments, important actors, and movies.

Late 19th Century: The Birth of Cinema

  • 1824: Peter Mark Roget presented his paper “The Persistence of Vision with Regard to Moving Objects,” laying the groundwork for persistence of vision.
  • 1832: Joseph Plateau introduced the Phenakistoscope, an early animation device that created an illusion of motion.
  • 1868: John Barnes Linnett patented the Flip Book, a booklet with a sequence of images that appear to animate when flipped rapidly.
  • 1888-1895: The development of motion picture technology began with inventors like Thomas Edison and his employee W.K.L. Dickson, who invented the Kinetoscope, a device for viewing moving pictures.

    In France, the Lumière brothers invented the Cinématographe, a camera that could project film. Their first film, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895), is considered by many as the first real motion picture.

    Read more about the first movie cameras.

Early 20th Century: Silent Film Era

  • 1900s-1920s: This era saw the rise of narrative films and the establishment of the basic elements of cinematic language.
  • 1902: A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès. Pioneered special effects and narrative storytelling.
  • 1903: The Great Train Robbery set the stage for the Western genre.
  • 1906: J. Stuart Blackton released Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, often considered one of the first animated films.
  • 1914: Winsor McCay created Gertie the Dinosaur, one of the earliest examples of character animation.
  • 1915: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation introduced advanced editing techniques, though it was controversial for its portrayal of race and the Ku Klux Klan.
  • 1919: Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer introduced Felix the Cat, who became one of the first animated stars.
  • 1921: The Kid by Charlie Chaplin, a significant silent comedy.
  • 1922: Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau helped establish horror as a genre.
  • 1926: The General by Buster Keaton, another silent comedy classic.

1920s: Technological Innovations and the Introduction of Sound

  • Genre: The German Expressionism movement had a major influence on cinema, using contrast, shadows, and distorted landscapes. This movement later influenced Film Noir.
  • 1927: The Jazz Singer was released as the first major ‘talkie,’ integrating synchronized dialogue and marking a pivotal moment in cinema history. Also, Metropolis by Fritz Lang of the German Expressionism movement was a seminal science-fiction film known for its ambitious production and special effects.
  • 1928: Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie marked the debut of Mickey Mouse and synchronized sound in animation.

1930s-1940s: The Golden Age of Hollywood

  • Genre and Style Expansion: This period saw the codification of genres like film noir, the Western, the musical, and the screwball comedy. Within documentary filmmaking, Italian Neorealism became prominent.
  • 1930-1939: Warner Bros. and MGM entered animation with characters like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry.
  • 1937: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs launched feature-length animated films.
  • 1939: Gone with the Wind by Victor Fleming is an epic historical romance and one of the highest-grossing films ever.
  • 1939: The Wizard of Oz by Victor Fleming, a significant achievement in using Technicolor and special effects.
  • 1940: Disney released Fantasia, known for its innovative combination of classical music and animation.
  • 1941: Dumbo was released by Disney, featuring the first use of the multiplane camera for depth.
  • 1941: Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, frequently cited as the greatest film ever made, notable for its innovative use of narrative structure and cinematography.
  • 1941: The Maltese Falcon, a significant film noir.
  • 1944: Double Indemnity, another classic film noir.

1950s: Post-War Cinema and Further Innovations

  • Rise of Method Acting: Actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean popularized this more naturalistic acting style.
  • 1950s: The rise of animated television series with shows like The Flintstones (1960) by Hanna-Barbera.
  • 1953: The Robe was the first film released in CinemaScope.
  • 1954: On the Waterfront by Elia Kazan highlighted method acting and intense drama.
  • 1955: Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray, a cultural landmark that captured the teenage angst of the 1950s.

1960s: New Waves and Cultural Shifts

  • 1959: The 400 Blows by François Truffaut, a key film in the French New Wave.
  • 1960: Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard, another cornerstone of the French New Wave.
  • 1960: Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, a landmark in the psychological horror genre.
  • 1961: Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians introduced xerography to transfer drawings to cels.
  • 1962: Lawrence of Arabia, an epic film utilizing Technicolor to its fullest.
  • 1967: Bonnie and Clyde breaks taboos with graphic violence and new gritty realism, heralding the start of the New Hollywood Movement.

1970s: The Rise of Blockbusters and Independent Cinema

  • 1972: The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola.
  • 1975: Jaws by Steven Spielberg, marking the beginning of the blockbuster era.
  • 1976: Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese, a notable example of independent and auteur cinema.
  • 1977: Star Wars by George Lucas, further solidifying the blockbuster model.

1980s-1990s: Technological Advances and Diverse Storytelling

  • 1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial by Steven Spielberg, a major blockbuster.
  • 1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit blended live-action and animation, revitalizing interest in the medium.
  • 1989: The Little Mermaid sparked the Disney Renaissance, a period of renewed success for Disney animated features.
  • 1989: Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee, which challenged racial stereotypes.
  • 1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day showcased groundbreaking CGI.
  • 1993: Jurassic Park demonstrated significant advancements in CGI.
  • 1995: Pixar’s Toy Story was released, the first entirely computer-animated feature film.

2000s-Present: Digital Cinema and Globalization

  • 2001: DreamWorks’ Shrek became a significant hit, winning the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
  • 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by Peter Jackson.
  • 2008: Iron Man began the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • 2009: Avatar by James Cameron pushed the boundaries of 3D cinema and visual effects.
  • 2010: Tangled, Disney’s 50th animated feature film, combined traditional and computer animation techniques.
  • 2013: Frozen became a cultural phenomenon and the highest-grossing animated film at the time.
  • 2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse showcased innovative animation styles and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
  • 2019: Parasite by Bong Joon-ho, the first non-English language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

2020s: Streaming and Pandemic Impact

  • 2020: COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in streaming.
  • 2020: Soul by Pixar explored complex themes with sophisticated animation techniques and premiered on Disney+ due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 2021: Encanto by Disney received critical acclaim for its animation and cultural representation.
  • 2021-2023: Hybrid release models become common, combining theater and streaming releases.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

    View all posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.