Before the advent of regular scheduled inflight motion pictures, passengers had little to do besides talking, reading, sleeping or peering out of the window. Although, the mode of transportation was the most advanced for its time, it was found lacking in the entertainment department. The first movie screening was in 1921 when eleven passengers in an Aeromarine Airways flight onboard a curtiss F-5-L flying boat watched Howdy Chicago! , a film promoting the city of Chicago using a DeVry suitcase projector. Soon after, in 1925, passengers on board an Imperial Airways World War 1-era Handley-Page Bomber watched part of The Lost World , a 70 minute film, during a 30-minute flight near London. Transcontinental Air Transport equipped their passenger aircraft with screens and projectors to show silent films onboard although the noise of the huge radial engines would have drowned out the sound anyway. All these efforts were experimental and movies were not shown regularly.
Trans World Airlines (TWA) first inaugurated in-flight films on 19th July 1961. Inflight motion pictures, a company from New York, developed the inflight projection system after four years of development. The first flight with this amenity was from New York to Los Angeles and the movie screened on that day was By Love Possessed. The initial movies were only screened in the first class cabin but the idea took off. People were willing to book tickets in the first class just to watch the cinema in the air!
There were a number of innovations that contributed to this development. Issues facing engineers was limited headroom in the cabin compartment and FAA regulations governing the impact of stress on the aircraft. After rejecting a few projectors for failing these requirements, David Flexer, president of Inflight Motion Pictures decided on a projector that weighed 75 pounds, and fit into a 34-inch-long extension of the life-raft compartment. Although the complete reel of a movie would be 25 inches in diameter, the headroom available was only 20 inches or so. David and his team devised a system where the reel would lay flat and the tape would be guided to the projector using rollers which would change the orientation from horizontal to vertical and back to horizontal when returning to the reel. The tape width was minified from 30mm to 16mm in order to fit-in better. Also pneumatic headsets were available to passengers so that fellow passengers would not be disturbed by the sound.
Other airlines soon saw the potential and began installing the movie screening services in their flights.