View Full Version : Why are movies called flicks?

10-02-2003, 04:26 AM
I sometimes see a film called a flick.
I wonder if this word means anything.
Can someone explain what the origin of calling films this is?

10-02-2003, 04:34 AM
I have no idea but my WAG is that it's a reference to early film and animation, using flickbook-type technology. It could also be a reference to the flickering of early film images. Or maybe it's because flicks rhymes with pics. Given the lameness of these suggestions, it doesn't take a genius to work out that I can be arsed to google.

10-02-2003, 04:35 AM
Can't be arsed to preview either.

10-02-2003, 04:36 AM
I don't know the origin, but growing up a "flick" was always a bad movie. But overuse popularized it to mean any movie.

10-02-2003, 04:45 AM
Dictionary.com says that 'flick' (when used as a synonym for 'movie') derives from 'flicker' - certainly early cinematic offerings did exactly that, so it seems plausible.

10-02-2003, 04:47 AM
My guess: In the old days the technology wasn't so good so the movies would flicker.

10-02-2003, 04:47 AM
manwithaplan got it pretty much right. Early movies flickered noticably, and so they came to be called "flickers". That got shortened to "flicks". And as so often happens, the term stuck around long after the reason for it not longer existed. Same with "dialing" a phone by pushing buttons.

10-02-2003, 05:00 AM
Silent era movies were shot with hand-cranked cameras, even though motorized cameras were available. Because of minor variations that occurred in hand crank speed, the exposure level of a shot was not uniform, and varied from frame to frame, producing the flicker that gave the movies the nickname "flickers". The sound era required cameras with uniform speed, which meant goodbye to the hand crank.

manwithaplan, you're thinking of flip books, not flick books.

10-02-2003, 06:17 AM
Yes, indeed, early miovies had a noticeable "flicker".

About the time that Jay Ward and Bill Scott were doing THe Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, they also produced a virtually forgotten show called Fractured Flickers, in which they took old silent movies and added dialogue, sound effects, and commentary. Funny stuff, as I recall. That was the last time I heard the term "flickers" (since then it's been shortened to "flicks"), but it shows that around 1960 people were so familiar with the term "flickers" that they didn't have to explain it.

10-02-2003, 07:16 AM
Incidently, the word "flick" was specifically banned under the Comics Code. You wouldn't catch Superman going to a flick.

Words in comics were written ALL CAPS. FLICK could be a problem if the letter spacing wasn't quite right. :)

F. U. Shakespeare
10-02-2003, 10:30 AM
IIRC, in the movie "The Green Mile" (which was set in the 1930's) the condemned man John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) makes a last request to see a 'flicker show'.

10-02-2003, 10:43 AM
RealityChuck, I remember an old sitcom, I think it was Barney Miller, that had someone in the closing credits named something like "James Flicker" and I had to do a double-take the first time I saw that name pop up! :)

10-02-2003, 11:12 AM
In the suburb where I grew up, there was a discount movie theatre called the Flicker Palace.

I don't know the origin, but growing up a "flick" was always a bad movie. But overuse popularized it to mean any movie.

I'd guess you've got it backwards. "Flick" always referred to any movie. For some reason, among the people you grew up with, it was used only to refer to bad movies.

10-02-2003, 11:13 AM
Yes, that was Theodore J. Flicker, who produced it and who is best known otherwise for his great little film, The President's Analyst.

10-02-2003, 12:33 PM
I vaugely remember when I was a kid (70's or early 80's) seeing adveritsements for a PBS miniseries called "Flickers" based on the lives of people in the silent-film industry.


10-02-2003, 12:36 PM
They still have Flicker Film Festivals (http://chapel-hill.nc.us/flicker/otherflickers.html) for small gauge amateur filmmakers.

10-02-2003, 12:46 PM
Dang. Wish I could've jumped on this and added something useful. The 'Flicker' situation with hand-cranked movie cameras is correct. I spent last summer working in a re-created nickelodeon and giving about a billion speeches a day to uninterrested tour groups on the nature and history of such things. Then we got to watch Buster Keaton.

10-02-2003, 04:18 PM
First flicker-free feature (shot with a motorized camera): A Sainted Devil (1924), starring Rudolph Valentino.

10-02-2003, 09:40 PM
The first cite in the OED for "flick" to mean a movie, is 1926.

10-02-2003, 09:41 PM
RealityChuck and Shoeless, Clint Eastwood's name would also jump out at you sometimes if the spacing wasn't quite right.

Salmo Trutta
10-03-2003, 03:24 AM
What about Spike Lee calling his flicks joints. I've wondered about that. The answer is probably obvious, but much of the time obvious things are the hardest for me to see!

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