Sure, everyone else posted their “top movie” lists for 2000-2009 last month; however, I wanted to do something different and I have it. Instead of trying to pick 10 movies that to me represent the best of that time period, I would like to reflect upon the massive changes that have occurred.
Technology has had a greater influence on movies and how we enjoy them over the past 10 years than in the 80s and 90s combined. In the 80s, we were coming out of the home video wars with VHS reigning supreme, and cable was still in its infancy. ABC, CBS, and NBC would have bidding wars to become the first network to air certain movies that had been released in theaters in previous years. This would bolster the lineups during sweeps months and everyone loved it. Cable evolved in the 90s and stole the thunder of the networks by outbidding them to show these movies. This led to the rise of TBS, TNT, and USA, as they used these movies to help build the channels; other cable channels would start following the same model. The home video market remained the same for most of the 90s as VCRs became commonplace in homes and Disney started releasing its animation vault on VHS. Blockbuster became the evil empire that nobody could knock off. It was also during the 90s that theater admission prices started rising rapidly. This was due in part to rising cost of movies, but also due to studios making sure they hit their profit margins with some people staying at home.
Towards the end of the 90s, two things appeared that changed the world of film forever: DVD and the Internet.
Sure, studios had experimented with laserdisc, but the price-point was never one that encouraged customers to buy. After having DVD languish for the first couple of years, the studios tried a new ploy. They started giving movies away for different promotions. Buy this DVD player and get 5 DVDs free or buy this DVD and get this one free. I rapidly built my collection between 2000-2002 using these promotions. What forced me to go DVD, though, was Disney. By releasing 6 animated features on DVD for a 6-month period, I was forced to switch to DVD to make sure I got them. By 2003, VHS was pretty much dead and DVD was now commonplace. However, the promotions had unexpected effect on Blockbuster – they actually helped reduce business since consumers were now building their own film libraries.
Meanwhile, the Internet was growing. Not only from the proliferation of websites promoting a movie and websites (like this one) dedicated to talking about them, but from a piracy standpoint. Why go pay $10 when I can stream it on the computer? With the advent of digital editing in film, it became easy to leak copies of a movie days and months ahead of release schedules. Maybe Spielberg is on to something by continuing to insist on editing his films by hand. From a retail standpoint, Blockbuster never saw Netflix coming. Allowing consumers to order DVDs at first and then later offer streaming choices, Netflix has made Blockbuster as unimportant as many of the “mom and pop” video stores it once crushed.
The Internet also helped force one of the nastiest Hollywood-based strikes that had ever been seen. Writers and actors quickly realized that their material was being shown thousands of times more than their royalty checks indicated and studios did not want to cough up the extra profits. This led to a stand-still that affected TV and movies; thankfully it ended within about 6 months and there was hardly any lapse in product. The long-term effects are to be determined; the only one I have seen is the sharp rise in ticket prices.
Towards the end of the past 10 years, theaters started adding 3-D options and IMAX options. I didn’t mind the 3-D – sure it was only $1 more and it added something to the experience. I do mind now when the up-charge is now $3-$4 and there has been NO CHANGE in equipment or technology. Then theaters started adding IMAX. Growing up, IMAX was something to behold – a movie screen 4-6 stories high and a seat so close that you became immersed in the world. What AMC and Regal have done is unforgivable: charging people an extra fee for an IMAX experience when it is not. Taking a normal screen and pushing the seats closer does not make an IMAX experience. Sadly, what will end up killing the theater business, particularly in this economic climate, will be the forcing of these up-charges and the elimination of student discounts. It is high schoolers and college students that spend the most on movies; by eliminating their paltry $2 discount, the theaters are killing the golden goose.
So what’s ahead for 2010-2019?
I don’t know, but I fear it will include a downsizing of movie theaters as the Internet moves things more and more to the home…