The term pre-code Hollywood refers to the period in American film history from 1929, when The Jazz Singer was released, up until 1934.

This time frame is known for its liberal attitudes and progressive social messages.

More importantly, it is known as a time of sexual liberation and experimentation among actors and actresses.

Hollywood films during this era were considered more risqué than those produced after 1934 when the Motion Picture Production Code came into effect.



What Are Pre-Code Hollywood Movies?

Pre-code Hollywood movies were films made in the early 1930s that did not follow the Motion Picture Production Code.

The code was a set of moral guidelines for film production, which was created by Will Hays and enforced from 1934 to 1968.

These movies were considered scandalous because they would show things like women smoking or drinking as well as showing nudity and sex scenes.



These movies contained many taboo topics that would be censored or prohibited under today’s standards such as drug use, nudity, interracial relationships, homosexuality, and abortion.

During this early era of filmmaking, there was an open discussion about sex which made these films feel modern at the time but also make them difficult to watch.

Pre-Code was an interesting and contentious time in film history. Pre-Code Hollywood largely ends when the subsequent period known historically as the Golden Age of Hollywood begins.

Here’s our video guide on the Golden Age of Hollywood:

Pre-Code Hollywood History

The history of Hollywood has been a very interesting one, starting all the way back in 1887 with Thomas Edison’s invention of the Kinetoscope.

From then on, we have seen many changes in film technology from silent movies to color movies and even 3D films. Join us as we explore this fascinating part of our culture!

The pre-code Hollywood era, which lasted from 1927 to 1934, is an interesting period of time in the history of American cinema.

It’s also a fascinating area for film buffs and historians alike.

During this time frame, there was no system of self-regulation so films were able to be more explicit than they are now. With such a wide variety of movies from that time still available today it can be difficult to find the best ones worth watching.

Memorable Risque Pre Code Hollywood Movies

The following list will provide you with some great examples of movies made during this era: “She Done Him Wrong”, “I’m No Angel” and “Baby Face”.

These three films are all classics and excellent examples of how much has changed since then!

Many people know about the “Golden Age of Hollywood” from 1930-1960, but they might not realize that it was preceded by a so-called “Pre-code Hollywood.”

It has been called the ‘wild west’ of filmmaking because there were few restrictions on what could be shown and released in theatres.

This period produced some truly memorable films, including Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein (1931) starring Boris Karloff.

In the early days of Hollywood, filmmakers were limited by what they could do creatively. There was no sound and directors couldn’t film in color.

That all changed when a young director named D.W. Griffith introduced his groundbreaking film Birth of a Nation to the world in 1915; it was one of the first films ever to be shot in color and featured sound!

It also had an overtly racist message that glorified the Ku Klux Klan’s role in protecting white society from black people who threatened their way of life.

The movie, which is considered one of the most influential movies ever made, was based on a novel about post-Civil War America told through someone else’s eyes – but not those of a black person or even an American Indian character!

Pre-Code Hollywood Characteristics

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the golden age of Hollywood? To see some of your favorite stars on a regular basis and know that they are just as famous as any other celebrity?

Pre-code Hollywood had a number of different characteristics including more sex and violence than post-codes allowed for.

Hollywood in the early days is a very different place. What we know as Hollywood today was actually known as “Hollywoodland” back then.

The first movie ever made, “The Great Train Robbery”, was filmed in 1903 by Edwin S. Porter and it took 12 hours to film one minute of footage!

Today we may take for granted that movies are recorded digitally and many scenes can be shot within minutes on smartphones, but back then anything you saw on screen was like watching an art installation piece with no audio or dialogue to guide your experience.

It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like without sound effects, music, voiceovers, or any other form of narration accompanying each scene when people would go see these films at theatres.

A lot of people think that Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley are the epitome of style.

It’s true they had their own unique flair when it came to fashion but a lot of what they wore was in line with pre-code Hollywood characteristics.

Types Of Pre Code Movies

Pre-code films were made before the Motion Picture Production Code was enforced in 1934, which prohibits things like nudity and sexual content.

Nudity is not allowed in this type of film because it was considered obscene at that time, but now we see it as a natural part of life.

These are the different types: nudist colony films, sex hygiene films, educational filmstrips about reproduction and childbirth, birth control propaganda films promoting abstinence or safe sex practices to prevent pregnancy such as condoms or diaphragms.

There are different types of pre-code movies such as:

  • Crime Dramas (examples include Little Caesar),
  • Gangster Films (examples include Scarface),
  • Social Problem Films. (examples include I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang).


What Is The Hays Code?

In Hollywood, there is a code called the Hays Code. The code was put in place by Will Hays and it regulated what could be shown on screen or in print from 1930 to 1968.

It was named after him because he established the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) which enforced this rule.

The code was designed to help protect children and families from viewing films with adult content which included nudity or sexual behavior.

The production code is considered one of the most important pieces of legislation for shaping American film industry standards.

The Hays Code went into effect on July 1, 1934, and lasted until 1968 when it became obsolete due to changing public opinion about sex and violence in movies.

In 1968, five years after its expiration date, MPAA president Jack Valenti called for an end to movie censorship altogether suggesting “the time has come for dramatic change.”

The rules were very strict and any violations would lead to fines or jail time for offenders. There were many exceptions made but they were always considered controversial.

The Hays Code was a set of moral codes that were enforced in Hollywood. They were put in place to prohibit certain things from being shown or mentioned on film, and the code began during the era of silent films.

The most notable thing prohibited by this code is any sort of graphic sexuality, which includes nudity and suggestive content.

For example, it allowed kisses if they were brief, had no passionate embrace, and ended when someone pushed one of them away.

It also permitted violence as long as the victim wasn’t killed on-screen.

Pre Code Movies – The Relationship Drama

The pre-code era is often looked at nostalgically by those who grew up during this time period due to the freedoms associated with these films as well as their artistic value that reflected the culture of America at that time.

Pre-Code Movies are masterpieces that represent a time when censorship regulations weren’t so strict, which resulted in some of the racist films ever made!

Here are films from before Hollywood imposed its Production Code that will give you an idea of what it was like when men were men and women were women: “The Wild One,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “All About Eve.”

Pre Code Movies – The Monster Movie

Do you enjoy movies that make you think?

Movies that will leave a lasting impact on your life and not just entertain for the two hours they are playing out in front of you?

In 1954, while most of America was enjoying cowboy and western films like “The Lone Ranger” or “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”, a group of filmmakers were busy making what would become known as one of the scariest horror films ever made; “The Monster Masterpiece”.

The movie was so scary, it had to be shown with an intermission because audiences couldn’t take any more scares after that point! It’s also very different from other monster-themed movies, which tended Pre Code Movies to be the forgotten and often misunderstood films that were made in America between 1930-1934.

These movies were not only a time capsule of their era, but also an important piece of film history as they paved the way for modern movies like Psycho, The Exorcist, and Jaws.

In the 1930s, horror movies were in their infancy. The public was used to seeing black and white films with simple plots that didn’t involve graphic violence or gore.

In the late 1920s, Universal Studios had a huge success with Dracula (1931) which paved way for more horror-themed movies from other studios like Frankenstein (1931).

These new rules prohibited anything deemed too scary or gruesome for audiences of all ages including murder, monsters, and zombies.

Remnants Of Pre-Code Hollywood

For a brief period, Hollywood was the center of American life. In the 1930s and 40s, movie stars were larger-than-life figures in America.

They were not only famous actors but also cultural icons with an unparalleled influence over fashion, music, and politics.

There is no one more iconic from this era than Rita Hayworth who starred alongside some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men including James Cagney and Fred Astaire.

After a decades-long career as Hollywood royalty, she retired to Arizona where she died at 68 years old after battling Alzheimer’s disease for 14 years.

Her story is one that many people know but little has been written about her time before becoming a star when she lived in relative poverty on the Lower East Side with her father Vincent.

In a time where Hollywood glamorized the lives of celebrity women, there were still those who struggled to find their place in society.

These women wore corsets and heavy makeup as they attempted to maintain an image that was pleasing to others.

Women such as Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, and Joan Crawford have been known for their contributions to the film industry throughout history.

Their work during this pre-code era has helped modernize some of today’s most famous movies – but what about the other stars?

But what about films from before Hollywood imposed its production code? Films from pre-code Hollywood are vastly different from those we’re used to today.

They were gritty, raw, and sometimes borderline pornographic. The time period was also one of intense national economic strife during the Great Depression, which had an enormous impact on how these movies were made.

Pre Code Movies – Feminist Focus

In the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, women were largely represented as either passive housewives or sex objects.

Movies often portrayed violence against women with no consequences for men. The sexualization of female bodies was normalized and reflected the larger social norms of society at that time.

However, not all movies from this era followed these gender roles.

Pre Code movies (1929-1934) provide an interesting perspective on feminism during this period in history when it was finding its voice through literature but hadn’t yet had much success in film production.

For example, “The Divorcee” starring Norma Shearer. It tells the story of a woman who falls in love with her divorce lawyer after her husband’s infidelity leads to divorce proceedings.

Pre Code Movies – Social Issues

The first example, “She Done Him Wrong” (1933), deals with topics such as prostitution, alcoholism, and adultery.

In another example from this era, “The Public Enemy” (1931) addresses gang violence and urban poverty.

It’s interesting to note that for these types of scenes there are no fade-outs or cuts within them which makes it more realistic but also harder to watch for some people who don’t want to see certain things happen on screen.

Hollywood in the 1930s is a fascinating time. It was a decade with many social issues that were addressed in films, such as racism and poverty.

One topic of interest to many moviegoers and filmmakers alike was juvenile delinquency, which became an issue after World War I when parents began working more because they could earn money again for their families.

These children had no one at home to care for them or discipline them so they would get into trouble if left unmonitored.

The Legacy Of Pre Code Hollywood Cinema

The end of pre-code Hollywood was a great turning point in the film.

The end of pre-code Hollywood can be attributed to a variety of factors including scandals and the Great Depression, but one thing is certain: people will never forget what made this era so great.

This is not only because the studio heads wanted it there, but also because they couldn’t get away with it anymore thanks to new laws put into place by President Roosevelt’s Administration during his New Deal Era.

The most famous films from this era are often remembered today as classics: Double Indemnity, King Kong and Scarface among them.

Nowadays with every movie being so worried about ratings and becoming PG-13, there is no way for them to recapture what made those old movies so great!

The legacy of pre-code cinema has been made into a documentary by director, Bart Weiss.

The film highlights the lives and careers of stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, and James Dean.

It also examines what it was like to be an actress before Hollywood became more conservative after the McCarthy era.

Ready to learn about more Film History & Film Movements?