The question of how films establish an acoustic environment was studied in the course of a research project on sound design in American mainstream film. The study was supported by the Swiss National Foundation. The corpus of this research project consisted of 96 films, their production years ranging from 1926 to 1995. Most of these films received an Academy Award for Best Sound. They were closely examined regarding their strategies to establish fictional, yet natural‐seeming, soundscapes. It was discovered that the film industry developed a rather restricted vocabulary to display certain types of geographically, socially, and/or culturally defined places. The cause of the restriction can be found in technical and historical reasons as well as psychological considerations. Film soundscapes have a clear communicative function in contrary to natural soundscapes, which contain random noises. According to an unwritten Hollywood rule of the so‐called classic era of the thirties and forties, any distraction from the narrative goal had to be avoided. This rule, however, was revised when multichannel formats were developed, first in the fifties with different wide‐screen systems, and later in the mid‐seventies with the Dolby stereo 4‐ to 6‐channel sound system.