How Blockbusters moved from Bombs to Movies


This week’s word is blockbuster – a film term with military roots.

Blockbuster entered English in 1942 to describe a large bomb which would flatten a city block with its destructive power.

By the 1950s the term was being used in the U.S. to describe a real estate agent who sold a house to a non-white family in a racially non-diverse neighbourhood, thus causing an exodus of home owners.

Thankfully the word got a new usage in the 60s when successful movies were described by it. Any big hit could qualify. However perhaps the best-known early blockbuster was Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975) when audiences talked about the movie afterwards and went back to see it and its thrills multiple times. Audiences would line up right around the block to buy a ticket, busting the block.

Now every summer we have a slew of such blockbusters released to entertain audiences. It’s hard to see how such large audiences will manage social distancing in cinemas this summer, but as a cinema fan I have my fingers crossed for some blockbusters sometime this year if it’s safe to release them.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

5 thoughts on “How Blockbusters moved from Bombs to Movies

  1. Rick Ellrod

    ” line up right around the block” — hmm, I never thought of the term as literally referring to a city block; I assumed it was a direct metaphor from the bomb, along the lines of a “smash” (or even a “hit,” come to think of it).

    There’s that C.S. Lewis essay on tempting, but ultimately incorrect, etymologies . . .


  2. wordfoolery Post author

    The lining up around the block is definitely just a way the word became stronger in public minds, the bomb smashing idea is the origin. I wasn’t aware of Lewis’ essay and I love his books (fiction and non) – I’ll have to try and track it down – thanks!

  3. BLANDCorporatio

    Studios looking to make the next blockbuster are prone to find out their movies do indeed bomb.


    1. wordfoolery Post author

      I really miss the movies too. Watching plenty at home, but there’s something special about going to the cinema itself.


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