An annual film series recreating the weekend matinees of yester-year!

Movie serials, shown complete and in order! Plus classic features! All on 16mm film!

Presented January through March every year.
Each weekly show presents a thrilling episode of a movie serial, paired with a classic (but secret!) feature film. The features are grouped into bi-weekly themes.

About the Series | Previous Series | About Movie Serials | Articles and Books

About the Secret Matinees

The idea is simple: show movie serials in the way they were intended to be seen — in weekly installments, at a weekend matinee, in a theater alongside other movie fans.

Serials were standard matinee fare for five decades, vanishing in the late 1950s thanks to the new popularity of TV. Since then, home video and streaming have again made serials more available for viewing. But that actual original experience remains all but unheard of.

We wanted to "restore" that experience, not only to revive some thrilling movie entertainment and bring the classic serial form into new focus, but also to give audiences some escapist weekend fun during their dreary winters.

Feature films are a big part of the show of course, but just like in the old days, the real draw is the serial. The surprise of each week's feature mirrors the exciting surprise of the plot twists and last-second rescues in the serial episode. The secrecy echoes the secret identities of the serials' protagonists, the shrouded plans for evil domination, and the hidden struggles to save the day. Each audience member joins a kind of "secret society," a hidden legion of film fandom galloping to ever-new adventures.

All movies in the series are always shown from actual film prints — never DVDs, digital, or videotape. This provides a further connection to the classic movie era that the serials themselves belong to, and is consistent with a broader mission of celebrating mechanical cinema.

The Secret Matinees are presented by The Sprocket Society. Since 2011, the home for the series has been the Grand Illusion Cinema, an all-volunteer, nonprofit jewel box theater that is the longest-running independent cinema in the Seattle.

The first Secret Matinee series was held in the autumn of 2008 at the Northwest Film Forum. The series has returned annually except in 2010, and a two year haitus during 2020-21 (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

In 2013 our Austin, TX chapter (now defunct) held its own Secret Matinee series, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.

Secret Matinees online

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Previous Secret Matinee series

  1. August 31 — November 23, 2008 | Northwest Film Forum
    The Sunday Secret Matinees
    Serial: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) — 12 episodes
    Feature genres included sci-fi and horror. Each show also included a cartoon or short (sometimes both).
  2. March 1 — May 24, 2009 | Northwest Film Forum
    The Sunday Secret Matinees II: Adventure! And Stuff!
    Serial: Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939) — 12 episodes
    Feature genres were expanded to include silent film, art-house and foreign releases, swashbucklers...and sci-fi and horror, of course. Each show also included a cartoon or short.
  3. January 8 — March 26, 2011 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Sci-Fi Saturday Secret Matinees
    Serial: Flash Gordon (1936) — 13 episodes
    Feature themes: Japanese Giants, Weird Worlds, and Crazy Creatures
  4. January 7 — March 24, 2012 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Sci-Fi Saturday Secret Matinees II
    Serial: Buck Rogers (1939) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes: Space Madness, Steampunk Adventures, and Beasts from Beyond
  5. January 5 — March 23, 2013 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2013 edition)
    Serial: Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes: Heroes & Villains, Exotic Lands, and Alien Encounters
  6. August 4 — October 27, 2013 | The Ritz, Alamo Drafthouse (Austin, TX)
    Secret Sunday Matinees
    Serial: The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) — 12 episodes
    Feature genres included sci-fi, adventure, comedy, and crime.
  7. January 11 — March 29, 2014 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2014 edition)
    Serial: Batman and Robin (1949) — 15 episodes
    Feature themes: Superheroes!, Tough Guys!, and B-Movie Monsters!
  8. January 10 — March 28, 2015 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2015 edition)
    Serial: The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes: Saturday Morning TV Classics, Antique Futures (pre-1940 science fiction), and Walk Like a Wagon (classic westerns, 1939-1957)
  9. January 8 — March 26, 2016 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2016 edition)
    Serial: Spy Smasher (1942) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes: Classic Comedies, Serial Heroes & Heroines, and Fantasy & Adventure
  10. January 7 — March 25, 2017 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2017 edition)
    Serial: Undersea Kingdom (1936) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes: Giant Monsters, Art-House Cinema, and TV Time
  11. January 6 — March 24, 2018 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2018 edition) 10th anniversary!
    Serial: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes (bi-weekly): Alien Invasion, Swashbuckling Heroes, Very Bad Deals, Twisted Intrigues, Atomic Monsters, and Widescreen Thrills (rare 16mm cinemascope prints).
  12. January 5 — March 30, 2019 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2019 edition)
    Serial: Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940) — 15 episodes
    Feature themes (bi-weekly): Weird Crimes, War is Hell, Weimar Silent Masterpieces, Song & Dance, Super Disaster!, Special Ides of March show (March 16 only), Kaiju Attack!
  13. January 11 - March 28, 2019 (as scheduled) | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2020 edition)
    The final three weeks of the 2020 series were cancelled due to a statewide pandemic lockdown.
    Serial: The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes (bi-weekly): Classic Creatures, B-Western Heroes, German Silent Cinema, Weird Early Musicals, Journeys to the Beyond (partially cancelled), Totally High! (cancelled)
  14. January 8 - March 26, 2022 | Grand Illusion Cinema
    Saturday Secret Matinees (2022: Escape from Lockdown edition)
    The series returns for the first time since COVID-19. For the first week's screening, the "feature" was the final three episodes of The Fighting Devil Dogs, which had been cancelled in 2019 due to the emergency lockdown. Likewise, features that had been cancelled were screened throughout this series,
    Serial: Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) — 12 episodes
    Feature themes (bi-weekly): In Our Last Episode..., Adventure Queens, Super Sleuths, Twisted Satires, Stop-Motion Giants, Totally High! (make-up from 2019)

About movie serials

In the old days, you got a lot of movie for the price of admission. A typical program would include one or even two feature films, plus a number of short subjects: a newsreel, a cartoon, a comedy or mini-musical, and — on the weekends — an episode of a thrilling movie serial.

Movie serials were extended films that were broken up into separate short chapters (or episodes) and usually shown weekly. They were extremely popular from 1912 through the late 1950s, when competition from television and rising production costs put an end serials and, eventually, all theatrical shorts.

During the silent era, serial episodes continued the overall story-line but were largely self-contained. During the sound era, the convention became for each episode to end with the hero or heroine in great or mortal danger, with little or no means of escape — the famous "cliffhanger ending." The viewer was thus (hopefully) hooked, and would return the following week to plunk down the price of admission to learn their fate.

A steadfast part of moviegoing for nearly 50 years, the weekly serial thrilled and entertained generations of audiences, provided the structural basis for TV dramas that is still used today, and influenced some of the most successful filmmakers in history.

Online articles about serials

  • The Files of Jerry Blake: Movie Serial Reviews and Other Cliffhanging Material — Our immediate go-to for information about any serial in the sound era. It is hands down the absolute, A-number-one best resource about serials on the internet (and possibly anywhere else). No contest. There are some 220 reviews of individual serials and each one is detailed, thorough, knowledgable, and thoughtful. There are also extensive bios of dozens of actors, even the bit players. All of it is extensively illustrated with stills and publicity pix. And that's not including the blog. Just an amazing piece of work.
  • "In Focus: Cliffhangers!" by Gary Johnson (Images Journal, Issue 4, summer 1997) — This fine article covers the history of serials from their beginnings in the silent era, to their downfall in the late 1950s, plus profiles on 10 of the best serials ever made.
  • "How Old Movie Serials Inspired Lucas and Spielberg" by Janet Maslin (New York Times, June 7, 1981)
  • "Serial Films" by Tim Dirks (Filmsite.org)
  • The Serial Squadron — A group restoring rare and "lost" serials from the early 1900s to the 1940s, and releasing them on DVD.

Books about serials: a select bibliography

  • William Witney, In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door (McFarland & Company, 2008)
  • Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut, The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury (Doubleday, 1972)
  • Kalton C. Lahue
    • Bound and Gagged: The Story of the Silent Serials (Castle Books, 1968)
    • Continued Next Week : A History of the Moving Picture Serial (University of Oklahoma Press, 1969)
  • Barbara Tepa Lupack, Silent Serial Sensations: The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema (Cornell University Press, 2020)
  • Rudmer Canjels, Distributing Silent Film Serials: Local Practices, Changing Forms, Cultural Transformation (Routledge, 2010)
  • Raymond William Stedman
    • The Serials: Suspense and Drama by Installment (University of Oklahoma Press, 1971)
    • The Movie Serial Companion, Book One (The Nostalgia League, 2010)
    • The Movie Serial Companion, Book Two (The Nostalgia League, 2011)
  • Alan B. Barbour
    • Days of Thrills and Adventures: An Affectionate Pictorial History of The Movie Serial (Macmillan Company, 1970)
    • Cliffhanger: A Pictorial History of The Motion Picture Serial (Citadel Press, 1973)
    • Saturday Afternoon At The Movies: 3 Volumes in 1 (Random House, 1987)
  • William C. Cline
    • In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials (McFarland & Company, Inc., 1984)
    • Serials-Ly Speaking: Essays on Cliffhangers (McFarland & Company, 2000)
  • Jack Mathis
    • Valley of the Cliffhangers (Jack Mathis Advertising, 1975)
    • Valley of The Cliffhangers Supplement (Jack Mathis Advertising, 1995)
  • James Van Hise, Serial Adventures: The Incredible Story of the Superheroes of the Silver Screen, (Pioneer Books, 1990)
  • Roy Kinnard, Fifty Years of Serial Thrills (Scarecrow Press,1983)
  • Ken Weiss and Ed Goodgold, To Be Continued...: A Complete Guide to Motion Picture Serials (Crown Publishing, 1972)
  • Ed Hulse
    • Blood 'n' Thunder's Cliffhanger Classics (CreateSpace, 2012)
    • Blood 'n' Thunder's Cliffhanger Classics, Volume Two (CreateSpace, 2017)
    • Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders: Cliffhanger Serials of The Silent-Movie Era (CreateSpace, 2014)
    • Handsome Heroes and Vicious Villains: More Cliffhanger Serials of the Silent-Movie Era (CreateSpace, 2016)
    • Behind the Mask: The Making of Republic's Lone Ranger Serials (CreateSpace, 2018)
  • Hank Davis
    • Classic Cliffhangers: Volume 1, 1914-1940 (Midnight Marquee Press, 2007)
    • Classic Cliffhangers: Volume 2 1941-1955 (Midnight Marquee Press, 2008)
  • Buck Rainey
    • Serial Film Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1912-1956 (MacFarland & Company, 2005)
    • Serials and Series: A World Filmography, 1912-1956 (MacFarland & Company, 1999; rev. ed. 2010)
  • Bruce Hershenson
    • Serial Movie Posters (self-published, 1999)
    • To Be Continued...: 1930'S & 1940's Serial Movie Posters (self-published, 2001)
  • Wayne Schutz, The Motion Picture Serial: An Annotated Bibliography, 1912-1956 (Scarecrow Press, 1992)