Cinema 1940: You Must Remember This….Events, Trends, Movies, Stars

What You Need to Know about 1940 as Movie Year

Note: If you want to know more about this movie year (and other years), please read my book, which is now in its 11th edition.

Top-Grossing Films 

1. Boom Town, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $3,664,000

2. The Great Dictator, United Artists $3,500,000

3. Rebecca, United Artists/Selznick Pictures $3,000,000

4. Strike Up the Band, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $2,265,000

5. Northwest Passage, $2,169,000

6. Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, $1,945,000

7. North West Mounted Police, Paramount Pictures $1,900,000

8. The Fighting 69th, Warner Bros. $1,822,000

9. Santa Fe Trail, $1,748,000

10. Kitty Foyle, RKO Radio Pictures $1,710,000



February 10:

Tom and Jerry make their debut in the animated cartoon Puss Gets the Boot.

February 23:

Walt Disney’s second animated feature film Pinocchio is released. Although not a box office success upon its initial release, the film receives critical acclaim and wins two Academy Awards, including one for Best Original Song for “When You Wish Upon a Star”. Over the years, Pinocchio has gained a cult following and is now considered one of the greatest films of all time.

March 21: Hitchcock’s first American film Rebecca is released, as David O. Selznick production. It would win the Best Picture Oscar.

May 17 –

My Favorite Wife is released.

May –

A reproduction of “America’s First Movie Studio”, Thomas Edison’s Black Maria, is constructed.

July 27 –

Bugs Bunny makes his official debut in the animated cartoon A Wild Hare.

October 15 –

Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, a satirical comedy starring him, premieres in New York City. It is a critical and commercial success and goes on to become Chaplin’s most financially successful film.

November 13 –

World premiere of Walt Disney’s animated film Fantasia at the Broadway Theatre in New York City, the first film to be released in a multi-channel sound format (see Fantasound). The film also marks the first use of the click track while recording the soundtrack, overdubbing of orchestral parts, simultaneous multitrack recording and is cited as a key chapter in the conception and development of the multi-channel surround system. Like Pinocchio, the film is a box office failure for Disney, though it recoups its cost years later and becomes one of the most highly regarded of Disney’s films.

December 5 –

Release of The Thief of Bagdad, pioneering the use of chroma key effects.
In the United Kingdom, the Crown Film Unit supersedes the GPO Film Unit in the production of documentary films.

Oscar Awards

Best Picture: Rebecca – David O. Selznick, United Artists
Best Director: John Ford – The Grapes of Wrath
Best Actor: James Stewart – The Philadelphia Story
Best Actress: Ginger Rogers – Kitty Foyle
Best Supporting Actor: Walter Brennan – The Westerner
Best Supporting Actress: Jane Darwell – The Grapes of Wrath


Best Actress in Different Venues:

Oscar: Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle

N.Y. Film Critics Circle: Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story


Best Actors in Different Venues:

Oscar: James Stewart,  The Philadelphia Story

N.Y. Film Critics Circle: Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator (award refused)


Most Popular Stars


Mickey Rooney

Spencer Tracy

Clark Gable

Gene Autry*

Tyrone Power

James Cagney

Bing Crosby

Wallace Beery

Bette Davis

Judy Garland*


There were two new faces on the list of the most popular star: cowboy Gene Autry and Judy Garland, MGM’s child actress, who made a smooth transition to likable teenager, as a result of becoming Micky Rooney’s most prevalent co-star in the late 1930s and early 1940.