In terms of film production, Turkey shared the same fate with many of the national cinemas of the 20th century. Film production wasn’t continuous until around the 1950s and the film market in general was run by a few major import companies that struggled for domination in the most population-dense and profitable cities such as Istanbul and Izmir. Film theatres rarely ever screened any locally produced films and the majority of the programs consisted of films of the stronger western film industries, especially those of the USA, France, Italy and Germany. Attempts in film production came only from these big importers, which could rely on their strong distribution-system and their theatre-chains that would guarantee them a return-of-investment. Between the years 1896–1945, the number of locally produced films did not even reach 50 films in total, equalling to an average annual film production under one film per year. Compared to the thousands of films that have been imported and screened during the same period, it is hard to speak about a presence of film production in Turkey before the 1950s.
This would rapidly change after World War II. A total of 49 films produced in 1952 meant that within a year, more films had been produced than the Turkish industry could produce during all the previous years. During the 60s, Turkey became the fifth biggest film producer world wide and annual film production reached the 300 film benchmark just at the beginning of the 70s. Compared with the histories of other national cinemas, the achievements of the Turkish film industry after 1950 are still remarkable.
However, the impact of TV and Video as the new popular media and political turmoil in the 70s (often hand in hand with deep economic crises) caused a sharp drop in ticket sales, resulting into a long crisis starting at around 1980 and continuing until the mid-90s. The number of annual ticket sales decreased from a 90 million tickets in 1966  to 56 million tickets in 1984 and only 11 million in 1990. Accordingly the number of film theatres fell from an approximately 2000 theatres in 1966  to 854 in 1984 and 290 in 1990. During the 1990s the average number of films produced per year remained between 10-15 films, usually half of them not even making it into the theatres.
Since 1995 the situation has improved. After the year 2000, annual ticket sales reached the 20 millions and since 1995, the number of theatres continuously increased to an approximately 500 theatres country-wide. Now, Turkish films attract millions of spectators and top the blockbuster-lists, often surpassing foreign films in terms of ticket sales. However, it is difficult to speak about the existence of an industry, since most films are rather individual projects of directors who otherwise earn their living in Television, Advertising or Theatre. The distribution of these films are mainly handled by foreign companies such as Warner Bros and United International Pictures.
Most of the Turkish films produced before 1950 were projects initiated by import companies owned by local families, most notably İpek Film, a daughter company of the İpek Merchandise, an import company that already existed in the 19th century as can be seen in their adverts published in Ottoman literary journals such as Servet-i-Fünun. Another important company in the early era of Turkish cinema was Kemal Film, a company whose continuous presence as a leading import company has been often overseen for a few local films it produced during the 1920s. (It is interesting to note that the founders of Kemal Film bought their first film camera on loan from the Ipek Merchandise). Both companies would be the strongest film distributors until the 1950s and the only companies that were financially sound enough to produce films themselves, with low risks for financial failure as they already were in possession of a distribution-system and theatre chains that guaranteed a return-of-investment.
However, the notable developments of these companies must be seen as necessary adaptations to the technological progress of the western film industries whose films they were importing. One example here being the establishment of the Marmara Dubbing Studio in the early 1930s, when the silent era came to an end in the West and sound-films became the standard, prompting the import-dependent companies to adjust themselves to the new technological requirements.
The big distributors in Istanbul, led by İpek Film and Kemal Film gradually expanded their distribution-system throughout the rest of the country during the 1930s, leading to the so-called “regional system” (Bölge İşletmeleri) which consisted of seven distribution areas with their headquarters being established in the most significant cities in those regions: Istanbul (Marmara Region), İzmir (Aegaean Region), Ankara (Middle Anatolian Region), Samsun (Black Sea Region), Adana (Mediterranean Region), Erzurum (East Anatolian Region) and Diyarbakir (South East Anatolian Region).The Regional System became much more important after the 1950s, when local film production dramatically increased and local films surpassed import-films in both ticket-sales and revenues. This system became the financial fundament of Yeşilçam (often referred to as “Turkish Hollywood), which was the heart of Turkish film production between the years 1955–1975. After 1965, a so-called “Combined-System” (Kombine Sistem)led by a trust of some regional leaders is said to have taken control on almost everything regarding production. A leading figure of the trust was producer Türker İnanoğlu who is still active in the media business today, now running Ulusal Film, Turkey’s largest TV production company.
The first film showing in Turkey was held in the Yıldız Palace, Istanbul in 1896. Public shows by Sigmund Weinberg in the Beyoğlu and Sehzadebasi districts followed in 1897. Weinberg was already a prominent figure at that time, especially known as the a representative of foreign companies such as Pathé for whom he sold gramophones before he got into the film business. In some sources he is also mentioned as a photographer, again as a result of being one of the representatives of foreign companies such as Kodak-Goldmann.
The first Turkish movie, a documentary produced by Fuat Uzkinay in 1914, depicted the destruction of the Russian monument in Ayastefanos by the public. The first thematic Turkish films were “The Marriage of Himmet Aga” (1916–1918), started by Weinberg and completed by Uzkinay, “The Paw” (1917) and “The Spy” (1917), both by Sedat Simavi. The army-affiliated Central Cinema Directorate, a semi-military national defense society, and the Disabled Veterans Society were the producing organizations of that period.
In 1922 a major documentary film, “Independence, the İzmir Victory,” was made about the first war of Independence. The same year, the first private movie studio, Kemal Film, commenced operations. From 1923 to 1939, Muhsin Ertugrul was the only film director in the country. He directed 29 films during this period, generally incorporating adaptions of plays, operettas, fiction and foreign films. The influence of the theater dating back to Uzkinay, Simavi, Ahmet Fehim and Karagozoglu is very strong in Muhsin Ertugrul’s work.
The years between 1939 and 1950 were a period of transition for Turkish cinema, during which it was greatly influenced by the theater as well as by World War II. While there were only two film companies in 1939, the number increased to four between 1946 and 1950. After 1949, Turkish cinema was able to develop as a separate art, with a more professional caliber of talents.