Streaming Services Won’t Kill Cinema

Jeongin Kim, Editor-in-Chief

In cinema, there’s an ever-growing rift between old auteurs and filmmakers of the digital age. Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, E.T.), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) and Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise) have all criticized streaming services for undermining the “true cinematic experience.” While I understand the impulse to gate-keep something I hold dear, the older generation’s perennial criticism of the youth is tired.

We have all heard this time and time again:

The old generation hates the new. They find our humor raunchy, style too skimpy, our success undeserved. They believe that because we may have not gone through as many steps to acquire the same opportunities, we’re spoiled, that we do not appreciate the work that they put into their films, that we have lived without challenge. They fear that we do not revere cinema as much as they do. But if it is filmmaking that is valued, why is it bad that more people can make a movie as long as they have a phone (i.e. Sean Baker’s Tangerine)?

Though these auteur directors are justified in their skepticism of the quality of streaming service house movies, they are not being very empathetic. Sure, they may be able to green-light a film in a blink of an eye, but up-and-coming directors? Not so much. Pitching to a studio for full domestic and international theater releases costs a lot of money—and it is often only approved if there are good odds for profit. Financing a novice director does not have that guarantee. Alternatively, pitching to Netflix allows for more filmmakers to get into the business. Nothing can simulate the experience of directing 100+ cast and crew, so the only way for filmmakers to hone their craft is to just make a movie. Streaming services have expanded young filmmakers’ options so that they can earn reputability.

As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I likely would not have a streaming service produce my movies to maintain creative autonomy—a common concern of traditional Hollywood. But, I have no reservations about my movies finding their ultimate home on these platforms. If someone were to discover my movie on Netflix, why is that an issue? I would rather my films have an audience, even if a majority is from streaming services, than no audience at all.

Every generation seems to think that they are more open-minded than their parents—yet, when a new generation comes up, they show the same pomp they once faced. Times change and we ought to change with it. Especially as this generation’s zeitgeist is of constant transition, we can only expect more.

Yes, the film industry has undoubtedly transformed, but streaming services are far from the Nostradamus of cinema doom. In fact, empirical studies point otherwise: those who spend the most time on streaming services also tend to go to the theater more than the average person.

Streaming services are not exempt from controversy (e.g. director-studio conflicts, questionable press releases, tax avoidance), but that does not discount their value. Tickets can cost anywhere from $5 to $30 depending on the theater and movie (note: Infinity War was $26 at Cinemark the opening week). Meanwhile, a monthly Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime subscription cost $8.99, $5.99 and $8.99, respectively.

I do prefer going to the theater—the smell of popcorn, the anticipation as the previews roll, the shared experience—but it simply is not an option now. The pandemic has only heightened the need for accessibility. The demand to preserve the “sanctity of cinema” is, frankly, quite elitist. It excludes an entire audience of eager movie-goers just because they may not be able to afford, monetarily or health-wise, to go to the theater. Why does an at-home movie experience have to be met with such vitriol? Isn’t the point of making movies to share?

In response to Spielberg, Netflix wrote,

“Here are some things we also love:

  • Access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theaters
  • Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time
  • Giving filmmakers more ways to share art

These things are not mutually exclusive.”