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Movie serials were very popular in the 1910s through mid 1950s. A movie serial consisted of a series of unfinished chapters or episodes that revolved around one central plot. The last episode would bring the serial to its final conclusion. The words "To Be Continued" were used to end each individual chapter, leading to the final installment.

First Serials

In the US, studios were convinced that audiences wouldn't sit for longer films so they were very hesitant to show longer than the normal 12 minute reels.

The first full feature film in the US was Vitagraph's 4 reel production of Les Miserables in 1909. BUT each reel was released separately. Several full feature films were released soon afterwards but also one reel at a time.

Even though these were 'installments' of a film, these were NOT considered Serials.

Many have considered Edison's 12 episode production of What Happened to Mary to be the first US serial. It's true that it was in 12 episodes BUT it is not considered a true serial because each episode was complete in itself.

The Adventures of Kathlyn,which began in December of 1913, is considered the first real serial because it brought together all the elements of a serial.

The first US talkie serial was King of the Kongo, which was a 10-episode serial released by Mascot Pictures in 1929 starring Boris Karloff.

The longest serial was The Hazards of Helen, which was 119 one reel episodes produced by Kalem Pictures. This serial was released from Nov 7, 1914 until Feb. 24 1917. The leading part of Helen was played by 3 different actresses, Helen Holmes (episodes 1-26), Elsie McLeod (episodes 27-49) and Helen Gibson (episodes 50-119).

Universal, Columbia, Mascot and Republic, as well as some independents, were the only studios producing serials. The "Big Five" - MGM, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and RKO did not venture into the serial market.

Each serial episode would last about twenty minutes. It would normally be presented after the cartoon shorts and before the feature presentation. The serial chapters would be shown in sequential order usually on a weekly basis, until reaching its final "spine-tingling" climax.

The last Hollywood serial was Columbia Pictures Blazing the Overland Trail released in 1956.

During the 44 year duration of the US serial, it is estimated that 350 silent serials and 231 talkie serials were released.

Other Countries

Here's a list of introductions of serials into other countries:

Argentina - 1917 - Les Habitants de la Lenora
Belgium - 1919 - la Belgique Martyre
Cuba - 1920 - el Genio del Mal
France - 1913 - Fantomas
Germany - 1920 - Die Herrin de Welt
India - 1918 - Ram Banvas
Italy - 1918 - Man in the Black Cape
Japan - 1925 - Sekai no Jo-jo (Queen of the World)
Mexico - 1919 - el Automovil Gris
Russia - 1914 - Sonka, the Goden Hand
Spain - 1915 - Los Misterios

The US, France and Spain were the only countries to make a significant number of serials.

Serial Posters

A movie serial consisted of a series of unfinished chapters or episodes that evolved around one plot - the last chapter bringing the serial to its final conclusion. The words "To Be Continued" were used to end each individual chapter, leading to the final installment.

As they did with full-length features, the movie studios released movie posters for each episode of their serial titles. These posters would have the title of the serial, the artwork and stars, and the chapter number. Some posters even indicate the number of total chapters.

Serial posters have remained a somewhat overlooked area of movie art. By definition, serial posters qualify as "legitimate movie art" because they were issued directly to theatres or film exhibitors for advertising purposes only.

For some reason, they are not as sought-after as much as posters of feature films from the same time periods. There are collectors who do collect serial movie art and this trend is likely to continue, given the fact of the limited number of serials produced and therefore the limited number of posters available.


For a list of American serial titles, click HERE.

To go to the list in our database, click HERE.

This section is for reference use. Images found on this site are property of L.A.M.P. and are for reference purposes only with NO rights implied or given. See LAMP Disclaimer
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