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Not all movies were filmed in widescreen format. There are many ratios. I am sure others can list most common ones.


Also not all movies are available in original format. What TCM shows depends on what a film's owners can or will make available.


Edited by: SansFin on Sep 9, 2010 6:46 AM

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Letterbox is only used when a film has an aspect ratio wider than the shape of the TV screen.


The vast majority of films worldwide prior to 1953 are in either 1:33:1 or 1:37:1, the latter called academy ratio, the standard of all Hollywood films throughout the 30s and 40s. There are some exceptions, like Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail, made on a 70mm widescreen process at Fox called Grandeur, but widescreen did not take off until 1953 when Fox released The Robe, the very first CinemaScope feature.


At this point, Hollywood begins shooting films in a variety of anamorphic processes which compress a wide image onto the standard 35mm frame, special film types like VistaVision, or shooting open matte, using the full 35mm frame shape and matting the picture to a specified ratio (usually 1:85:1.) 1:85:1 becomes something of a "standard" aspect ratio but there really is no conventional standard to shoot a film in today. Even academy ratio is still used to this day - many of Jean-Luc Godard's films over the last 30 years or Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Paranoid Park (2007) are a few examples.


The television screen was originally designed back in the 1920s with the shape of 35mm film in mind. It was actually the rising popularity of television in the late 40s/early 50s that prompted Hollywood to go widescreen, offering a presentation television could not. The favoring of letterboxing films for TV screens began in the 1980s when the home video company Criterion began releasing laserdiscs of widescreen films in their native aspect ratio rather than cropping or using pan & scan. This tradition became the favored method of viewing films by cinephiles at home. Television stations would not letterbox widescreen films until TCM came around in 1994. Today even that's a rare case. Of course, now we have HDTVs, with a shape of 1:78:1, which has created a host of problems for showing a variety of films (now not only do we still have pan & scan...we have tilt & scan!...wonderful!)

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Welcome to the boards. TCM is certainly the place to go to see films in their original aspect ratio (OAR). TCM's programmer has made it clear that they always request films that way and about 99% of the time the the version shown on TCM is in the OAR.


On occasion, TCM may have to show a film in a full-screen or pan & scan version, but that's usually do to either an error on the distributor's part or for some reason an OAR version isn't available. People complain when that happens, but it's something TCM can't control and will keep working on to get an OAR copy for future showings.

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JonasEB wrote: "Television stations would not letterbox widescreen films until TCM came around in 1994."


The original AMC network screened widescreen movies in the widescreen format as early as 1992. That original AMC is long gone.


Here are a few AMC widescreen movie showings that I transferred from videotape to DVD in 2007:


SPARTACUS (WS) (AMC, 3/20/92, 751)

PEYTON PLACE (WS) (AMC, 3/93, 846)

THE FLY (WS) (AMC, 10/31/96, 1213)


KRONOS (WS) (AMC, 2/15/97)








THE BIG TRAIL (WS) (AMC, 4/27/01)


These are thought to be other AMC widescreen movie showings that I didn?t transfer from videotape to DVD:


THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (WS) (37, 2/98, 1410)

THE GREEN BERETS (WS) (37, 7/98, 1486)



All these original videotapes have been recycled.


Photos depicting the Spartacus widescreen showing of March 20, 1992 are posted here:




Edited by: talkietime on Sep 12, 2010 5:08 PM

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AMC, rather late in their pre-commercial break peiod would show newer films full-frame in prime-time & repeat them in widescreen after midnight. I recall them showing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK this way. There were others, but I'm just not recalling the titles right now.

And they also showed several other Hammer films (in addition to what was listed above) in their widescreen versions... CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN I definitely recall being shown that way.

Speaking of that last title, it should be noted that not all WS were filmed with any kind of anamorphic process. Some were filmed Academy Ratio with the intention of being projected with the top and bottom of the image being masked off. If you see a full-screen version of most Hammer films, for instance, you're not seeing less info on thge sides than intended, you're seeing more info on the top and bottom.

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When Encore shows Touch of Evil, they show the open matte version which looks more appropriate than the 1.85:1 release on DVD. Hopefully when Universal gives it the eventual Blu-ray it's kept open matte.


I didn't know AMC ever showed films letterboxed. I never got to experience the old AMC, my interest in movies started to grow the year AMC changed, 2002, or so I've read. I only watched one film on the channel and it made me swear off movies with commercial interruption for life.

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