Motion-Picture Theater

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Motion-Picture Theater


a public building (or part of one) equipped to show films. Contemporary motion-picture theaters in the USSR and abroad are equipped with complex machinery.

The main part of the theater is the auditorium, which has a large screen (up to 30 m wide) that reflects light and conducts sound. Behind it is a powerful loudspeaker. Large motion-picture theaters have an air-conditioning system, acoustically treated walls and ceilings, and decorative lighting. Located behind the rear wall of the auditorium is the projection room, which is equipped with several powerful, multipurpose projectors for showing regular and wide-screen 35-mm sound films and 70-mm wide-gauge stereophonic films. The projection room is also equipped with powerful electronic sound frequency amplifiers, electrical systems, a light dimmer, an automatic or semiautomatic system to control the picture on the screen, and other devices. Office areas and a lobby may also be part of a large motion-picture house.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s motion-picture theaters were designed for special types of cinematography, such as three-dimensional (stereoscopic) films and Cinerama. Large motion-picture and concert halls (2,500–4,000 seats) suitable for a variety of uses became popular. Their technical equipment and acoustics were appropriate for major concerts and for all types of motion pictures (regular, wide-screen, and wide-gauge). In the USSR there are a number of these halls, including the Oktiabr’-skii in Leningrad (4,000 seats), the concert hall of the Rossiia Hotel in Moscow (3,000 seats) and that of the Ukraina Hotel in Kiev (4,000 seats), and the Palace of Arts in Tashkent (2,500 seats).

One of the largest multipurpose halls in the world, the Kremlin Palace of Congresses in Moscow (6,150 seats), is equipped with a complex sound engineering system to reproduce sound stereophonically and change acoustics to suit the particular needs of congresses, concerts, operas, and film showings. The powerful projector in the Palace of Congresses makes it possible to show all kinds of contemporary films on the hall’s 27-m-wide screen, which is mounted on a metal frame that can be brought forward onto the proscenium by an electric cable.

The most common motion-picture theaters have only a moderate capacity (300–1,000 seats). In the USSR there are 13,000 motion-picture theaters in buildings specifically designated for that purpose, but there are also several tens of thousands of movie theaters in buildings used primarily for other purposes (for example, palaces of culture and clubs). There are about 100,000 motion-picture theaters in the world.


The first motion-picture theaters date from the later half of the first decade of the 20th century. At that time they differed little from assembly or concert halls. Among the earliest examples are the theater on Nollendorf Square in Berlin (1910; architect O. Kaufmann) and the Art Theater in Moscow (1910’s; main architect, F. O. Shekhtel’). In the 1920’s motion-picture theaters were built in a variety of architectural styles, including neoclassical, baroque, and Gothic. They had the traditional theater layout and magnificent interior decor (for example, the Kapitol in Berlin, 1925; architect, H. Poelzig). Strictly functional motion-picture theaters were also built around this time, with the seats arranged to provide for maximum comfort (the Universum in Berlin, 1928, architect, E. Mendelssohn; and the Udarnik in Moscow, 1928–31, architect, B. M. Iofan). The “super theater,” with a capacity of 4,000–5,000 people, was also designed during the 1920’s. The use of metal structural parts made possible the construction of large overlapping bays (for example, the Stamford-Hill Theater in Great Britain, 1928). Since 1934 smaller theaters (1,200–2,200 seats) have been built in Western Europe, with simpler architectural styling and more comfortable interiors (the Palace Theater in Chatham, Great Britain, 1934).

Contemporary buildings designed as motion-picture theaters are architecturally austere, emphasizing the contrast between the thick cubic structure and the large glassy surfaces on the main facades. Blind walls are frequently decorated with mosaics. Decorative lighting and the marquee are an important part of contemporary movie theaters. The architecture of the facade harmonizes with the stark interior design.

The best examples of Soviet motion-picture theaters are the Oktiabr’ Theater (1967; main architect, M. V. Posokhin) and the Rossiia (1961; main architect, Iu. N. Sheverdiaev), both of which are in Moscow, and the Pioneris in Riga (1961–62, designed by J. Peterson). Movie theaters built in new residential areas are essential elements of the urban layout.


Kacherovich, A. N., and E. E. Khomutov. Akustika i arkhitektura kinoteatra. Moscow, 1961.
Gnedovskii, Iu., and M. Savchenko. Kinoteatry (Osnovy proektirovaniia). Moscow, 1968.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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