The Science & History of Popcorn – The Snack that Saved the Movies

The Science & History of Popcorn – The Snack that Saved the Movies


[Class Assembling] Hello, John Hess from FilmmakerIQ.com and
today we’ll dig into science and history of Popcorn and how this delicious treat helped save the
movies. Ah magical sound of corn popping but what is it about this seed that explodes
in fluffly flaky goodness? Popcorn is the species of corn called Zea
mays everta with a very interesting characteristic. Unlike most grains, the pericarp or hull of
the popcorn kernel is both hard and impervious to moisture. Inside this seed, the endosperm is made of
a hard dense starch with a little bit of water and oil ideally around 14% for good popping corn. That little bit of water makes all the difference. When popcorn is heated that water turns to
steam but it can’t escape the hard waterproff shell. As the temperature increases, the steam pressure
builds and the starchy inside turn into a hot molten gel.. At around 356F (180C) the internal pressure
is 135psi – 930 kiloPascals at this point the shell erupts and the molten
starch expands quickly rapidly cooling and forming an airy foam. This creates starch and protein polymers of
that familar cruchy puff. In the industry, there are two kinds of popcorn
flakes Butterfly flakes are irregularly shaped pieces
with wings. This is considered to have a more pleasant
mouth feel and is generally used for movie and everyday snacking popcorn. Mushroom flakes take on a more ball shape
making them less frangile often used for prepackaged popcorn and confectionary
like caramel corn. Popcorn is perhaps oldest snack food known
to man with evidence of popcorn being found in the
“bat cave” in Western New Mexico dating back to 3600 BC. The origins of popcorn as a species are not
entirely clear, but it seems to go hand and hand with the
domestication of maize by early Central and South American inhabitants. In fact the English word “corn” is somewhat
misleading. Corn originally meant whatever cereal plant
was most used by a culture. To the English, corn was wheat, in Scotland
and Ireland, corn was oats. When the European settlers came to the Americas they found the inhabitants growing Indian
Corn or maize their dominant cereal plant. Although European settlers in the new world
encountered popcorn in central and South America, there is actually no evidence to suggest that
popcorn was present at the first American Thanksgiving in Plymouth
Massachusetts in 1621. Instead Popcorn as we know it today would
find its way to North American east coast as Valparaiso corn brought up sailors and whalers from the Chilean
port of Valparaiso recorded as early as 1820. Within a few years it came to be known by
what we call it today “popcorn” an Americanism that shortened the words popped
corn. With the invention of wire poppers, popcorn
spread quickly throughout the United States. But it was industrialization that would cement
popcorn in the American culinary heritage. At the Columbian Expo in Chicago 1893, inventor
Charles Cretors introduced the world’s first mobile popcorn machine a simple steam engine attached to a peanut
cart that cooked popcorn in a mixture of butter and lard. At the same expo F.W. Rueckheim introduced
a molasses flavored “Candied Popcorn with Peanuts” the first Caramel Corn. It was a bit too sticky
for most people, so Rueckheim’s brother altered the recipe
and packaged it a Cracker Jack in 1896. With Cretor’s mobile popcorn machine and
Cracker Jack, Popcorn became a staple of the American Social
experience. By 1920s, popcorn was everywhere, at sporting
events, circuses, parks, bars… everywhere except the movie theater. The movie palaces of the 1920s were fighting
a PR battle with bawldry Nickelodeons. Movie theaters wanted to create an image of
class and sophistication so they copied the style of traditional theaters with sweeping architecture of grand lobbies
and furnishing it with elegant crystal chandeliers and gorgeous carpets. The movies were too refined and too good for
the common man’s snack and owners didn’t want to deal with the mess and the aroma of popcorn in their immaculate
halls. But technology and economics change everything. The most important shift in film technology
was the addition of synchronized sound. After 1927, you could actually hear what the
actors were saying on screen instead being required to read title cards. This opened up the movies to brand new audiences
– people who were illiterate and often poor and young children audiences that wouldn’t really be attracted
to the palatial setting of movie houses. And then came the Great Depression. Many movie palaces went under and those that
survived were clinging to dear life. Everyone in the movies were suffering… except
for the street vendors who were proving there was a buttery goldmine in popcorn. Popcorn was a cheap luxury that people could
still afford and it became the first snack smuggled under coats into the movie theater. In this dark time, you could actually make
a living as a popcorn street vendor. An Oklahoma banker, who had lost his shirt
in the stock market crash, resorted to selling popcorn in front of movie theater. Within a couple years, he made enough money
to buy a house, a farm and a store. Another example of the money in popcorn involves
Kemmons Wilson, a young kid who dropped out of high school to support his family. He struck a deal with a Memphis movie theater
to sell popcorn outside the theater to patrons. He bought a $50 machine on credit and began
selling bags for 5 cents each. In not too much time he was making $40 to
$50 dollars a week a lot of money in those times considering the movie theater was struggling to pull in $25. Jealous, the
theater owner kicked Wilson out and moved into the popcorn business himself. This story does have a happy ending as Kemmons
Wilson vowed to own his own theater so no one would ever take his popcorn machine away again and it was something he did years after
he founded Holiday Inn. The independent non-studio owned theaters
were first on board the popcorn gravy train – R.J. McKenna – a manager that ran a chain
of theaters in the west began selling popcorn inside the movie theater lobby where the buttery aroma boosted sales. By
1938 he was collecting over $200,000 in proceeds. Another chain on the East coast experimented
with popcorn only in there smaller theaters keeping the nicest and fanciest theaters concessions
free. Those that had popcorn were making a profit
whereas the fancy theaters were dipping into the red. Popcorn was literally saving the movie theater
business so much so that a Depression-era entrepreneur
once gave this bit of advice: “Find a good place to sell popcorn, and
build a movie theater around it” Popcorn continued its growing in American
Pop culture especially during World War 2 when sugar rations made candy and chocolate
scarce. But popcorn, like the movies would face a
serious challenger in the new entertainment technology of the 1950s: Television. Television was the last straw in a crumbling
studio system in the late forties and fifties. Movie attendance dropped as much as 50% inside
the decade – along with it popcorn sales. The problem with popcorn was it was hard to
make at home and in small servings. But as the movies turned to new technology
to lure audiences back into theaters, the popcorn industry turned to technology
to make popcorn at home. Brands like EZ pop in 1955 and Jiffy Pop in
1959 sold packaged unpopped kernels in disposable aluminum pans that would expand during cooking. Despite patent violation lawsuits, Jiffy Pop
would go on to become the standard for home cooked popcorn for a generation. But it was another piece of technology that
would make popcorn the perfect companion for a night in with a movie: The Microwave Oven. Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation was a company
based out of Massachusetts that made radio tubes for consumer use. During World War II, the British approached
them to mass produce an electronic component called a magnetron to be used in their secret weapon – RADAR. Raytheon ended up producing over 80% of all
magnetrons used by the Allied Forces, shooting their income from $6 million a year
in 1942 up to $173 million by the War’s end. But the executives faced a serious problem:
what could they do with all these magnetrons once hostilities cease? In late 1945, a Raytheon Engineer and Inventor
named Percy Spencer brought a patent attorney into the lab for a demonstration. He set up a microwave tube and dropped a kernel
of popcorn in front of the wave guide. It popped – creating the world’s first microwaved
popcorn. Within two years the first commercially produced
microwave oven was introduced standing about 6 feet tall, weighed 750 lbs,
and costing between $2,000 and $3,000. Perhaps a bit big and expensive for most families
but a couple of decades of refinement would eventually result in counter sized models
and the microwave popcorn boom would take hold in the 1980s just in time for popularization of premium
cable and watch-at-home movie technologies like VHS, Beta and LaserDisc. For some, the movie going experience is simply
incomplete without a bucket of buttery yellow popcorn. The tie is not only a personal and cultural
connection – it’s actually an economic one as well. Popcorn pulled movie theaters from bankruptcy
during the Great Depression and it still accounts for as much as half
of the income generated by a movie theaters today more so than the actual ticket price. That outrageous and frankly insane mark-up
we pay at the concessions is how this little puff of air and starch
is responsible for keeping movies in business. For without popcorn, there simply would be
no theaters, and perhaps no movies at least not the way
we know them. Whether you partake or not, know that this simple ancient snack help make
film and filmmaking possible. Now go out and make something great. I’m John Hess, I’ll
see you at FilmmakerIQ.com

92 thoughts on “The Science & History of Popcorn – The Snack that Saved the Movies

  • November 18, 2013 at 9:09 am
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    i was just playing Batman: Arch-am Asylum and the first thing i thought of after hearing bat cave was the line the joker says, about batman bringing in "Bat Snacks"… everyone loves popcorn though!

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 9:30 am
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    Your channel is my favorite on Youtube, keep making these videos at whatever the cost, I love them!

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 10:00 am
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    Wonderful as always…such well researched topics. Would like to see blade runner covered by you.

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 11:08 am
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    Is popcorn a vegetable?

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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    well something called pot with some veg oil . no need for microwave or special machine 

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm
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    Liked it. Thanks for posting. Was a master of the pop corn machine as a movie theater employee, back when theaters had platters and reels in the booth. Popped corn in an industrial sized popper (not in view of the public) that we used to pop and bag, …then we’d move the popcorn to the big warmers at the concession stand for serving. Sound of popping corn is unique. Nothing else in the world sounds like it.

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm
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    That was 12 quick minutes! So much information delivered in such a wonderful way. Great video 😀

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm
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    Movie = Theatre + Popcorn

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm
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    A wonderfully informative channel but please don't laugh at your bad puns again

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm
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    That was a nice history, awesome video. 🙂

    Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm
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    I'm simply amazed by this channel. So informative, so high quality, I'm just stunned. Keep up the good work, and thank you for the videos!

    Reply
  • November 19, 2013 at 12:45 am
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    UGHHH I'm hungry now

    Reply
  • November 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm
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    The last movie I saw in a theater was "Saving Private Ryan."  I stopped going to theaters because the experience was no longer worth the price of admission.  Growing up in the 60s and 70s I loved going to the movies. I went to at least a movie a week. Sometimes two or three. You could walk into the theater at your convenience and if you missed some of the feature you could stay in your seat and watch it again. The only thing they advertised on the screen was coming attractions and the snack bar. Anybody who lived in or visited San Francisco in that era remembers the bargain matinee theaters on Market Street. Go before 2 p.m. and the price of admission was $1.00. My favorite theater was "The Strand" which showed a different double-feature everyday. The marquee of The Strand is still there but the actual theater is now a garbage strewn lot. All of those theaters have  either been torn down or converted to other uses.. There are only a handful of independent theaters left in San Francisco. All of the great movie palaces are either gone or have been converted to multi-theaters. Now with the advent of high definition wide-screen televisions, I don't feel like I'm missing much. If I want to watch "The Godfather" in my underwear, no big deal. 

    Reply
  • November 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm
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    That was interesting. I didn't know you had to have a specific type of corn to make popcorn. I thought popcorn was just regular corn that had dried out.  Why does the buttered microwave popcorn smell so hideous when it's cooking?  It tastes good when it's done but I can't take that smell when it's getting nuked. 

    Reply
  • November 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm
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    I feel so knowledgeable and hungry now

    Reply
  • November 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm
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    Man Your videos are the best, you really taught me allot so I really appreciate your efforts (y)

    Reply
  • November 24, 2013 at 4:06 am
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    These videos are great, very informative! Keep it up. 

    Reply
  • December 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm
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    well im not eating popcorn the same way again

    Reply
  • February 12, 2014 at 2:18 pm
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    the editing of these videos is so tight

    Reply
  • February 17, 2014 at 6:46 am
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    Your videos are some of the most entertaining, informative and clear and concisely delivered bits of educational history on the film and tv industry I have ever come across.  I commend you highly for such solid work and hope you continue to enlighten us all and gain tremendous benefits in return!

    Reply
  • March 9, 2014 at 4:29 pm
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    God damn, I want some popcorn!

    Reply
  • March 30, 2014 at 9:05 pm
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    Popcorn,Milk Duds & a Coke.

    Reply
  • April 6, 2014 at 1:31 am
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    When he said the Bat Cave, I was like, YES!!!

    Reply
  • April 8, 2014 at 9:26 am
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    Jeez, is there anything you don't know??? Do they teach about this at film school? 🙂 Don't ever stop doing these lessons, they are great!

    Reply
  • April 24, 2014 at 6:16 pm
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    Popcorn WAS my favorite snack until I learned about corn and gmos >:(

    Reply
  • April 28, 2014 at 7:51 am
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    hilarious

    Reply
  • November 19, 2014 at 1:25 am
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    Thumbs up if your eating popcorn while watching this

    Reply
  • December 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm
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    One of the best FilmmakerIQ videos! 

    Reply
  • March 12, 2015 at 11:12 am
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    Great piece on American "pop" culture!  🙂

    Reply
  • June 16, 2015 at 3:18 pm
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    Wait if there is colored kernel corn could the popcorn be the same color or the color of that kernel.
    For example. Orange, red, black, brown colored corn.

    Reply
  • June 25, 2015 at 8:08 am
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    I read it's really about salt and butter. Popcorn as a vehicle for these flavors that drive soda sales at the concession.

    Reply
  • July 19, 2015 at 3:39 am
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    nicely said and explained 🙂 my kid is getting smarter thanks!

    Reply
  • July 28, 2015 at 12:36 pm
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    For added humor, you should include the final scene from Real Genius (1985).

    Reply
  • September 3, 2015 at 10:53 pm
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    like this vid no like others

    Reply
  • October 12, 2015 at 5:40 am
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    Interesting, I thought bagged popcorn was a modern invention, since we expect everything to be portable and quick. I pop my popcorn on the stove in a pot and I don't find it difficult, so I'm surprised that that process is what drove bagged popcorn, especially 40 years ago.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm
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    Wow, that was pretty interesting. I LOVE popcorn, it's probably one of my favorite foods so it was neat to hear about the history ^_^

    Reply
  • November 23, 2015 at 7:21 pm
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    Idk why but anytime I have popcorn at home I have to watch this video

    Reply
  • December 1, 2015 at 11:04 am
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    I love your channel, you are amazing.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2015 at 2:05 pm
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    I cant avoid that imagining Alfred Hitckcock presenting these.

    Reply
  • April 5, 2016 at 8:18 am
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    Very cool. Thank you!!!!

    Reply
  • April 7, 2016 at 7:06 pm
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    man, you are legend

    Reply
  • April 21, 2016 at 10:34 pm
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    I wonder what do you think about taking own snacks in movie theater?

    Reply
  • April 22, 2016 at 1:29 am
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    It makes it more interesting if you actually work in a movie theater

    Reply
  • May 18, 2016 at 12:13 pm
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    made popcorn just before watching it.
    i like science and food equally. please visit my channel for awesome recipes

    Reply
  • June 10, 2016 at 7:00 am
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    nintendom64?

    Reply
  • June 15, 2016 at 6:18 pm
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    I think movie theaters charge way to much for their snack food and I think it's an excuse when they say. they need to charge thar much to make ends meet. If the theater is a small local theater. I can understand. But not these places that are big chains. Like Regal Cinemas and etc…
    I'm not talking about popcorn. But the exact same box of candy I can buy at dollers tree for one buck. but the theater charges 4.50 or more for the exact same thing. lol

    Reply
  • June 30, 2016 at 1:10 am
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    i love your channel. Any kind of history is my thing. Thanks

    Reply
  • July 7, 2016 at 9:44 am
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    thank u…

    Reply
  • July 10, 2016 at 7:17 pm
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    I looove me some popcorn!

    Reply
  • August 28, 2016 at 12:26 am
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    I don't even care about the video I just like the way he says popcorn 😛

    Reply
  • September 22, 2016 at 9:37 am
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    Can I just quit being a poor videoguy and find a good place to sell popcorn and get rich ? haha

    Reply
  • October 5, 2016 at 11:47 am
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    I just started working at a cinema a couple of months ago, this was really interesting! Also, just had a handful of butterkiss xD

    Reply
  • November 13, 2016 at 12:07 pm
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    I was eating popcorn while watching

    Reply
  • November 26, 2016 at 7:54 am
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    movie theaters thrived during the great depression

    Reply
  • December 9, 2016 at 10:23 pm
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    @Filmmaker IQ . Hey, John, great video. I work with cinema at Brazil, and your lessons is always good learning. Could you turn on the option of "translate" the videos? So, maybe I (and other viewers) can help other people to reach your contents. Keep doing something great, and thanks for the hard work. https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/4792576?hl=en

    Reply
  • January 21, 2017 at 7:03 pm
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    Sometimes Dad and I make popcorn when we watch movies

    but what I'd really like to do is figure out what goes into the movie theater popcorn or at least close to it

    Because whenever we make popcorn it's never as good as what's at the movies

    Reply
  • March 20, 2017 at 10:33 pm
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    he looks like that guy from Toy Story 2

    Reply
  • April 23, 2017 at 12:13 am
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    I smuggle beef jerky into movies… nothing like a little jerk as you watch a movie….

    Reply
  • June 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm
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    Awesome history guide. Thanks for doing the research and putting together a great video!!

    Reply
  • July 11, 2017 at 3:21 pm
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    Popcorn is bad for you

    Reply
  • July 28, 2017 at 6:53 am
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    Butter is nasty

    Reply
  • August 15, 2017 at 11:35 pm
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    Who's eating pop corn

    Reply
  • August 27, 2017 at 10:25 am
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    Oooh, yiffy pop

    Reply
  • August 27, 2017 at 11:02 pm
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    This Channel is awesome

    Reply
  • September 2, 2017 at 9:19 am
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    Blast! I hate popcorn. It tastes of styrofoam, chewing it even feels like chewing styrofoam. I hate the smell. It sticks to my teeth and to the soles of my shoes when I am in a movie theater. I hate the loud munching all around me while I try to watch the movie. I have seem BIG bags of pre-produced popcorn sold as "fresh". Popcorn is so disgusting to me I wouldn't mind if it vanished from the face of the earth. But it saved the movies so I have to put up with it and even like it. Bummer.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 3:22 am
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    Ahh, popcorn. One thing that makes me sane.

    Reply
  • September 19, 2017 at 3:14 am
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    I thought peanuts were the precursor to popcorn. Speaking of, I actually know s theater in my town that still sells bags of peanuts as a snack.

    Reply
  • November 4, 2017 at 8:16 pm
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    great i never would have known that popcorn was so great!

    Reply
  • February 6, 2018 at 9:59 pm
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    Batman was Mexican?

    Reply
  • April 15, 2018 at 10:52 pm
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    This is very interesting, where are the articles that you have to learn from so I can read them. This is so interesting, good video.

    Reply
  • April 17, 2018 at 1:14 pm
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    Thewe videos are fascinating! Why don't you guys have 500 million subs??

    Reply
  • June 3, 2018 at 2:03 am
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    Corn was domesticated by tribes in Mexico, not those in Central & South America.

    Reply
  • June 3, 2018 at 5:25 pm
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    0:40 Is Your YTP Source, Thank Me Now

    Reply
  • June 28, 2018 at 12:03 am
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    You're responsible for my keyboard being greasy now!

    Reply
  • July 6, 2018 at 1:24 pm
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    Watching thuis while eating

    Reply
  • August 22, 2018 at 9:26 pm
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    Incredibly beautiful story-telling! Learned so much about the history and business. Thank you!

    Reply
  • October 18, 2018 at 12:11 am
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    people will know that popcorn is superior to plums

    Reply
  • October 28, 2018 at 9:50 pm
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    0:42 is for the meme

    Reply
  • November 20, 2018 at 12:00 am
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    Hey Filmmaker IQ, you should check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxg8ZDrR7DA

    Reply
  • December 16, 2018 at 8:23 pm
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    HE IS! HE IS THE POPCORN GUY!

    Reply
  • February 28, 2019 at 6:29 pm
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    who else is here for school

    Reply
  • March 5, 2019 at 3:03 pm
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    here's my trick: DO THIS when you get a microwave popcorn bag, slightly burn it, then there is a "crust"??? on the paper inside. it tastes great.

    Reply
  • July 2, 2019 at 8:50 pm
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    Anyone else like eating food and learning about the history of it? Just me? Ok..😂

    Reply
  • August 4, 2019 at 8:42 am
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    Me:*searched popcorn*
    Also me: deletes opc

    Reply
  • September 8, 2019 at 9:25 am
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    Me before the video: Popcorn? How the heck would it save the movie industry?
    Me after the video:
    I'm Martin Scorcese, and this is my masterclass.

    Reply
  • September 16, 2019 at 4:10 am
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    Yay! It is marvelous.

    Reply
  • November 18, 2019 at 6:35 am
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    I love movie theater popcorn and my family knows it. If there is a kid's movie they do not want to see they call me up to take my nieces and nephews and their friends to it. I've seen MANY a terrible movie, yet have always loved the popcorn………….Also, I lived directly across the street from a movie theater, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, and would go there to just buy a tub of popcorn to take home and watch a DVD. The first time I went there I tried to explain to the box office guy I didn't want to see a movie, that I just wanted to buy a tub of popcorn. He thought I was nuts, which I probably am to a certain degree, yet he let me in and I walked out with my lovely bouquet of buttery popped corn………………. and nowadays, if I attend a film they have FREE refills, life is grand.
    Enjoy your day

    Reply
  • December 3, 2019 at 9:36 am
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    I am a popcorn purist – popcorn on the stove or in an electric popper in peanut oil smothered in real butter and never microwaved. I buy the theater salt from a theater supplier. Yum.

    Reply
  • December 14, 2019 at 9:13 pm
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    US culinary heritage>>> popcorn. All said.

    Reply
  • January 16, 2020 at 7:53 am
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    1920s popcorn was cheap enough for families to afford even during the Great Depression and kept people coming to the movies.

    2020s popcorn is expensive enough to put some families into poverty and keeps people from going to the movies.

    Reply

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