Tom Stempel

Access Type

Online access to this book is only available to eligible users.



Download Full Text (17.2 MB)


A unique perspective on half a century of American cinema—from the audience’s point of view. Tom Stempel goes beyond the comments of professional reviewers, concentrating on the opinions of ordinary people. He traces shifting trends in genre and taste, examining and questioning the power films have in American society. Stempel blends audience response with his own observations and analyzes box office results that identify the movies people actually went to see, not just those praised by the critics. Avoiding statistical summary, he presents the results of a survey on movies and moviegoing in the respondents’ own words—words that surprise, amuse, and irritate.

The moviegoers respond: “Big bad plane, big bad motorcycle, and big bad Kelly McGillis.”—On Top Gun

“All I can recall were the slave girls and the Golden Calf sequence and how it got me excited. My parents must have been very pleased with my enthusiasm for the Bible.”—On why a seven-year-old boy stayed up to watch The Ten Commandments

“I learned the fine art of seduction by watching Faye Dunaway smolder.”—A woman’s reaction to seeing Bonnie and Clyde

“At age fifteen Jesus said he would be back, he just didn’t say what he would look like.”—On E.T.

“A moronic, very ‘Hollywoody’ script, and a bunch of dancing teddy bears.”—On Return of the Jedi

“I couldn’t help but think how Mad magazine would lampoon this.—On The Exorcist

"A refreshing antidote to dry statistical summary, Stempel’s entertaining tome offers a different perspective on a half-century of American cinema."—American Cinematographer

"A highly charming and provocative study of audiences."—American Studies

"Deflates ‘artistic’ opinions about directors by using box-office grosses and audience response as a measuring rod."—Choice

"A sprawling look at the last fifty years of American movies and how audiences responded to them."—Cineaste

"Does something that most academically oriented cinema-related books don’t: he gets in touch with the magic of the movies."—Creative Screenwriting

"Obligatory reading for serious film goers and film makers alike. Written with charm and style, this book gives the audience perspective on movies as no other book has done. Insightful."—David Brown

"A fascinating glimpse into history."—Express Books

"In drawing our attention back to the audience, he has rendered a service by reminding us that a reciprocal relationship exists between the filmmaker and audience. All too often we tend to ignore the latter."—Film & History

"The results reflect the ideas of anyone who has ever sat down with an overpriced combo of popcorn and soda: some movies are great, others are stinkers, and when it comes right down to it, the opinions of professional critics don’t amount to a hill of beans."—ForeWord

"A great idea for a book."—Lexington Herald-Leader

"In this book, ordinary people talk back to the screen, describing early movie-going memories, family nights at the drive in, growing up with movies in the early days of television, and loving and hating movies in the 1960s. Other topics include the always popular subject of sex in the cinema . . . and the our changing response to movies as we age. . . . . Lively, divergent reactions to classics and box-office hits are also included."—Library Journal

"Stempel draws upon his considerable expertise to examine the complex relationship between the audience and the movies. . . . Very highly recommended and unique reading for students of film history and American popular culture."—Midwest Book Review

"Gives voice to the audience."—Plus

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Movie audiences, Movies, American cinema


Film and Media Studies

American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing
Read Sample Off-campus Download for UK only

Consortium members may access while on their campus.