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Serial

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This article is about serials in the cinema or on the television. You might want, instead,
  • Serial communications for information about computer communication technologies that use a single stream of data.


A serial, or cliffhanger, was a popular form of movie entertainment that dated back to the earliest days of cinema. Usually filmed with low budgets, serials were action-packed stories that usually involved a hero (or heroes) battling an evil villain and rescuing a damsel in distress. The villain would continually place the hero into inescapable deathtraps and situations, or the heroine would be placed into a deathtrap and the hero would bravely come to her rescue, usually pulling her away from certain death only instants before she met her doom. The hero and heroine would face one trap after another, battling countless thugs and lackeys, before finally defeating the villain "once and for all"...even though the villain would almost always get away at the end, to return at a future date.

Many famous cliches of action-adventure movies had their origins in the serials. The popular term "cliffhanger" is derived from the serials (though its origins have been traced by some historians to the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle), and it comes from the many times that the hero or heroine would end up hanging over a cliff, usually as the villain gloated above and waited for them to plummet thousands of feet to their deaths. Other popular cliches included the heroine being tied to a railroad track; being lashed to a log in a sawmill, lying on a conveyor belt and approaching a gigantic whirling sawblade; or being trapped in an abandoned mine shaft, watching as the burning fuse of a nearby bundle of dynamite sparked and sputtered its way towards the deadly explosive.

The serials were filmed in separate parts, and each chapter (a typical serial usually had fifteen of them) would be screened at the same theater for one week. The serial would end with a cliffhanger, as the hero and heroine would find themselves in the latest perilous situation from which there could be no escape. The audience would have to return the next week (and pay admission) to find out how the hero and heroine would escape and battle the villain once again. Serials were especially popular with children, and for many youths in the first half of the 20th century, a typical Saturday at the movies included a chapter of at least one serial, along with cartoons, newsreels, and two feature films.

Famous serials of the silent era include The Perils of Pauline[?]. [NOTE to movie buffs: Please add more titles here!]] During the 1930s and 1940s, many famous serials turned to science fiction and fantasy for their stories. Buster Crabbe made a name for himself by starring in several science fiction serials, including Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century[?]. Popular comic books and radio programs of the 1940s were the basis of several serials; famous superheroes to appear in serials included Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and the Green Hornet. The most respected directors during this period was the team of John English[?] and William Witney[?] who directed an acclaimed series of serials for Republic Pictures[?] which include The Fighting Devil Dogs, Daredevils of The Red Circle and The Adventures of Captain Marvel.

With the advent of television and the decline of the moviegoing audience, production of serials ceased due to the dcreasing audience (and revenues). But the serial lived on, moving instead to the small screen and the world of TV reruns.

The serial format is still used, for example in the 2002 television series Alias[?].



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