Streaming services shift film industry

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

During a recent panel at CinemaCon, Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman,” “WW84” and “Monster,” voiced her displeasure about how movies that are released directly to streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, look like fake movies.

There is something to be said in her statement, as movies that are released to streaming with no theatrical release do not feel like an event. The allure is gone from the sensation of seeing something for the first time, something nobody, sans critics, has seen yet. When in a movie theater, there is fanfare and excitement when the lights go completely dark.

Jenkins is arguing that these streaming movies, stripped of this power, do not have the same allure and look cheap, without fanfare, dropped into a proverbial pond with thousands of other movies already streaming. Something that certainly has not helped with the decline of theatrical releases would be the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Rydelski, senior theatre and comedic arts double major, argues that this topic must be viewed from a circumstantial perspective.

“It seems like a little bit of a snobbish comment trying to say that they’re not ‘real movies,’ because at the end of the day the same amount of people worked on it as a theatrical release,” Rydelski said.

Joy Bennett, senior theatre major, does not think that movies released directly to streaming have less of an allure than theatrical releases finding that it doesn’t have an impact “on the craft of a movie.”

Of movies released directly to streaming, Bennett noted that Netflix’s “The Woman in the Window” was an anticipated release.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be some cinematic masterpiece, I was entertained. I like Amy Adams,” Bennett said.

Michael Eaton, professor of film studies and film production, does not blame the film industry and people like Jenkins.

“(They are) trying to hold onto the traditional model of theater only release before streaming or other platforms, bjut the technology of consumer consumption is changing, including the fact that many of us have very large screens and pretty good sound in our livings rooms compared to even ten years ago,” Eaton said. “Many consumers don’t even mind watching movies on iPads or even iPhones.”

For Scott Rydelski, going to the movie theater was something he did for as long as he can remember,

“I love going to the movies,” Rydelski said. “That’s an event for me. Going to the movies is a big deal. It’s something that I want to share with my kids and with this it’s the first sign I’m seeing that the future for movie theaters is in jeopardy.”

Rydelski was particularly looking forward to seeing “In the Heights” in theaters, but the fade out of theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic was cause for a change of plan.

“I was super excited to see this one in the theaters (as a) Hispanic, with like a group of Latinos and just experience it for the first time,” Rydelski said. “I remember being excited for it and being sad that I couldn’t have that experience within that setting.”

Bennett said that movies released straight to streaming platforms are accessible and cost-effective.

“I really appreciated having access to (these movies) without having the pressure of having to spend money (at the theater),” Bennett said.

Some of Eaton’s favorite movie experiences are at home.

“I’ve always enjoyed going to the theater for a movie, especially with my wife and/or daughter and with friends, but I’ve grown to love the at-home experience as well,” Eaton said. “The only theater experience that I prefer over watching movies at home is the deluxe seating theaters with food available like iPic. And my absolute favorite might be watching a movie at a campsite with my family on an iPad in the woods.”

Both students came to the realization that the theater experience is a luxury that is becoming harder to afford, and, according to Rydelski, people are going to want to go with the “cheaper experience.” He concluded that because of this, this is where Jenkins’s comments have some validity.

But do direct-to-streaming, or simultaneous release movies, look like a Disney Channel Original Movie? Are these real movies, no matter how “fake” they may look to Patty Jenkins?

“They feel normal. Yes, of course they feel like movies,” Bennett said. “Hot take: she just said that because [‘WW84’] did worse than she wanted it to do. Maybe she should’ve made a better movie and we would’ve watched it.”

Eaton thinks the film industry should’ve seen “the writing on the wall” even before the pandemic.

“Cinema is cinema at this point and that great movies can be enjoyed in many settings, not just theaters,” Eaton said. “The business model is changing for an industry that got stuck in its ways.”

Scott Rydelski recommends students check out “Marriage Story,” on Netflix, a sentiment shared with Joy Bennett, but she also recommends watching Amazon Prime’s release, “Annette.”

Movies released directly to streaming are not fake movies, as Jenkins says. Movies released on streaming do not have the cheap feeling of say, a Disney Channel Original Movie.

Is the future of movies in streaming services? Eaton would argue yes.

“The art form itself is still primarily a matter of trying to make the best movie that you can with compelling and emotional stories that stir the hearts and minds of viewers,” Eaton said. “The business side is changing and that’s not a bad thing. Just as music will always and forever be performed live in front of audiences as well as recorded and played back on devices in various settings, cinema will always be enjoyed by audiences in public and private spaces.”

While Jenkins isn’t wrong, her generalization is hasty and poorly expressed. No theatrical experience, for example, would save her movie “Wonder Woman 1984,” because no matter what it’s released on it is still a bad movie, fanfare notwithstanding. 

Arguably, the blow of its mediocrity is softened because of its direct-to-streaming release. The audience doesn’t have to simmer in the defeat of a bad movie ticket when they can just turn on something else.

Leave a Reply