The art of cinema appeared in Turkey a few decades after the Lumiere brothers started their first cinematography shows in Paris in 1885. Film studios were established by the Ottoman state with the initiative of the Ittihat ve Terakki (Union and Progress) governments which attached importance to political propaganda. It is accepted that the Destruction of the Russian Monument at St. Stephan�s filmed by Fuat Uzkinay in 1914 is the first Turkish documentary. The Wedding of Himmet Aga, the filming of which was started in 1914 and finished in 1919, is the first full-length movie. During this period, thematic films were also made along with newsreels concerning the First World War. However, none of these films were released from the influence of the theater. The stage actor Muhsin Ertugrul, who started directing films when the first private movie studio was established in Istanbul in 1922, had a lasting influence on Turkish films until the 1950s. Atesten Gomlek (The Great Ordeal), 1923, which told a story that unfolded during the Turkish War of Independence and in which the first Turkish woman artress played; Istanbul Sokaklari (The Streets of Istanbul), 1931, the first Turkish film with a soundtrack; and Bir Millet Uyaniyor (A Nation Awakens), 1932, are among the most important films of Muhsin Ertugrul, who directed more than 30 films throughout his distinguished career. However, only one or two films were being made per year in Turkey up until 1950 and in this period, Turkish cinema was still unable to shake off the dominant influence of the theater.

Movies which have a real cinematographic narration and style and which are not overly burdened with the influence of the theater started with Lutfi Akad. He was inspired by the Poetic Realism of the French cinema and the American Film Noire , and intermeshed the ideas and styles he borrowed from these cinematic schools with Turkey's own sources. In this period which ended in 1960, approximately 60 films were being produced every year. Turkish cinema experienced a revival in the period which started after the 1961 Constitution went into effect. Film directors such as Metin Erksan, Halit Refig, Ertem Gorec, Duygu Sagiroglu, Nevzat Pesen and Memduh Un made successful films with some social context and implicit social comment. These films had very different themes, scenarios and narrative styles. In fact, Susuz Yaz (the Dry Summer), 1964, in which Metin Erksan touched on the realities in the rural areas, became the first Turkish film which gained international recognition. It won an award at the Berlin Film Festival. The new Turkish cinema, which continued to develop on a social-critical and realistic line, was influenced negatively by the increasing politicization of the country in the late 1960s. Meanwhile, the number of films produced reached 150-200 per year, but most of these films declined in quality. The increase in numbers, when coupled with the mass production of TV sets at the end of 1968 led to a crisis at Yesilcam (the film making district in Istanbul).

In the 1970s, new directors emerged: Yilmaz Guney, Sureyya Duru, Zeki Okten, Serif Goren, Fevzi Tuna, Omer Kavur, Ozcan Arca, Korhan Yurtsever and Ali Ozgenturk, who were influenced by the serious films of Lutfi Akad, tried to reflect political, economic and social issues. They produced many dozens of artistic movies which gained considerable international recognition both in Turkey and abroad.

In the aftermath of the 1980s, relations between the movie industry and the state developed to some extent and the Turkish cinema started to gain some recognition on the international arena. Films with psychological and social themes and films about woman's rights gained popularity.

The 1990s have been the most successful years. There is a distinct increase in the quality of the films produced. The increase in the numbers of university departments providing education in this field, the emergence of a generation of new directors, actors and actresses who had received a higher quality education, the aid given by the state in support of this branch of art, the competition between the cinema and television, and increasing international recognition are among the main factors which contribute to the recent increase in the average quality of the Turkish movies and which herald a brighter future for the Turkish cinema.