I can remember the thrill of seeing the Cinemascope version of The Robe. When it opened the screen got wider and wider and we all gasped in amazement as we turned our heads from side to side to scan the stunning panorama. However, after 135 minutes of Richard Burtonism and Victor Maturity, with only Jean Simmons and Ernest Thesiger (as Tiberius) to relieve the boredom, we had stopped feeling the width and were minding the quality of what was really just another slab of epic piffle.
The super-wide Cinemascope on the New Miracle Curved Screen didn't last. Here there is comprehensive note on widescreens generally and here is a detailed list of film formats from 1888 to the present.
It is a complicated story, but the sad fact is that the 4:3 format which largely dominated the first two-thirds of the history of the cinema and the whole of TV history except for the last few years is now dead, and 16:9 rules, whether we like it or not.
I don't like it, much. It seems to me obvious that widescreen is best suited for showing either vast prairies or scenes where one or two people are lying prone or dozens are marching or standing still facing the camera in a long line (it's significant that formats in photography called portrait and landscape).
For almost anything other than corpses, the Last Supper or Alberta, 4:3 is artistically, dramatically and practically much better. For one or two talking heads, which after all account for a high proportion of what goes on drama, widescreen is pointless and distracting. It's not as if the format can be adjusted to suit the action: letterboxing and pan-and-scan can only be applied to the whole film.
However, one gets used to 16:9 after a bit, and when it comes to watching old films at least the format can be changed at the press of a button. I find I am offered a choice of seven ways of handling 4:3, though if you leave it on Auto you get the one that simply stretches it sideways, so that everyone looks like the late Stubby Kaye.
[Computer monitors have always had something like a 4:3 format and the screen is the wrong way round if you are working with documents, which most of us are, most of the time; ideally, you need to turn it round to portrait and have a widescreen one as well.]