There is a certain nostalgia tied with seeing a movie in theaters. It connects us to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when going to the “pictures” was the hottest activity to do on a Friday night. Over the years, though, prices of movie tickets have skyrocketed, forcing people to value economy over the shared experience of enjoying a movie in a communal setting. Over the last decade, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have gained popularity when they started to offer people a more affordable and convenient way to watch movies and TV shows. With young people more apt to watch videos on YouTube than shows on cable, streaming services are quickly becoming the dominant form in which people view entertainment. People today, more than ever before, have the pick of the litter of what streaming service and device they would like to use. Some of the top options include Netflix, Apple TV, Hulu, Sling TV, Amazon Prime Video, HBO YouTube TV and, come Nov. 12, Disney. The Disney Co. will join the streaming industry with their new service, Disney+, and more major entertainment companies are likely to follow. Now that we seem to be in a Golden Age of Streaming, what does this mean for the film industry?
Streaming at home is very appealing. Platforms like Netflix offer affordable deals to people with an internet connection, which gives them a wide variety of genres to enjoy in the comfort of their own home or on their devices. To keep up with streaming services, lately movie theaters have been trying to become more like them. Many theaters now offer reclining seats, full-service food and drink options and movie ticket subscription plans. With the rapid pace that streaming seems to be overtaking Hollywood, it seems like these changes are not enough to keep the in-theater film industry as prevalent and successful as it was in years past.
In addition to in-theater attendance, streaming is changing which movies make it to theaters. While blockbuster films such as the Marvel movies attract people in droves to the movie theater as soon as the big-budget film is released, movie attendance in North America is still very low compared to past years. Film studios are more likely to produce large-budget blockbusters they know will attract people to theaters than smaller budget independent films. This is where streaming services like Netflix come in to pick up the discarded films that big studios will not produce.
Recently, more and more well-known actors have signed onto movies with streaming platforms. Stars such as Ben Affleck, Eddie Murphy and Sandra Bullock seemed to have jumped ship from theater-released, studio supported films to streaming platforms. Lately, people are more likely to see Jennifer Aniston in a film produced or released by Netflix or Apple TV than one with a Hollywood studio. Meryl Streep just joined the group of A-list streaming movie stars, acting in the Netflix released film “The Laundromat.” Also, the great gangster filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who created classics like “Goodfellas,” “Cape Fear” and “Shutter Island,” recently paired with Netflix to produce his latest film, “The Irishman.” Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, “The Irishman” was originally supported by Paramount Pictures but the studio ended up backing out. In an interview at the Marrakech Film Festival, Scorsese said, “‘The Irishman’ is a risky film. No one else wanted to fund the picture. Netflix took the risk.”
This is only the beginning for big-name actors and filmmakers who have connected with streaming platforms. In a New York Times profile, Scott Stuber, Netflix’s movie chief who previously worked with Universal Pictures, talked about the future of Netflix original films. Stuber plans to pull in films from Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Dee Rees, Guillermo del Toro, Noah Baumbach and Michael Bay, saying, “If you’re going to build a great film studio, you have to build it with great filmmakers.” The New York Times article also revealed that Stuber plans to release 55 original films this year. This number does not include the films acquired from outside sources that Netflix will release as well. In contrast, this year Universal Studios will release about 30 movies.
To put the economy of streaming into perspective, the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) annual report for 2018 found that home entertainment jumped globally 16% to 55.7 billion dollars in revenue. Comparatively, the global box office earned about 41.1 billion dollars in 2018. The CEO of the MPAA, Charlie Rivkin, pushed for streaming platforms to be allowed into the association. Rivkin was successful with Netflix, which joined the MPAA in January, which means that Netflix films are now eligible to compete in the Oscars. Rivkin’s support of Netflix is controversial since many people in Hollywood believe that streaming platforms should not be accepted as legitimate sources of film. The Cannes film festival was a supporter of this opinion, and in 2017, passed a rule that no film could compete for the festival’s awards without a theater release, deliberately excluding streaming platforms like Netflix. This rule continued in 2018 which resulted in a weaker American presence at the festival. Netflix and Cannes have been in negotiation for new terms of acceptance into the festival over the past year, but Netflix did not attend the festival in May.
Recognizing the changing face of the film industry, New York Times journalist Kyle Buchanan collected a series of quotes from Hollywood stars and filmmakers who’ve responded to this issue. Jessica Chastain pointed out an interesting benefit of streaming platforms that produce original movies, saying, “I’ve seen a lot of female filmmakers get opportunities at Netflix and Amazon that they haven’t gotten through the studio system. So I’m very, very happy about the new shape our industry is taking.” While Chastain seems optimistic about the growing influence of streaming, filmmaker Jason Blum feels the opposite: “I’ve never felt the nervous energy in Hollywood that I’ve felt over the last 12 months, and it increases every day. There’s an uncertainty about the future, because the change is happening in an incredibly dramatic way.” Sony executive Tom Rothman took a more offensive stance on the fight against streaming saying, “In a world where everything is on demand, I think that’s what makes movies special: exactly because it’s harder is why it’s a more significant leisure choice. Guess what? You can’t see ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ on your phone right now. If you want to see Leo and Brad together on the screen — the biggest star pairing since Butch and Sundance — you gotta get a babysitter.”
Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have rapidly altered the environment of the film industry and have influenced what movies are supported by studios and released in theaters. Netflix’s admittance into the MPAA means that streaming platforms have begun to gain traction as legitimate and powerful sources of film. More and more entertainment companies are creating streaming platforms of their own. With major Hollywood stars and filmmakers switching to streaming services, the in-theater film industry is slowly being gutted, producing mostly big-budget blockbusters which platforms like Netflix have started to match. It seems like the Golden Age of Streaming is steadily turning movie theater films into a thing of the past, joining the nostalgia of attractions like drive-ins or outdoor movies, activities we still occasionally enjoy but no longer have the weekend draw they used to.
Maria Marabito is a second-year student majoring in English writings track. MM883631@wcupa.edu