Cinemas Vs. Streaming: Who Has the Upper Hand?

Cinemas Vs. Streaming: Who Has the Upper Hand?

Luke Jackson

The house lights dim. The screen goes dark. The smell of popcorn and its satisfying crunch rest dimly in the back of your mind. You’ve just sat through what felt like forty-six hours of trailers and trivia, and finally, the show is about to start. The score swells as the screen brightens, and suddenly you’re transported to another world. Maybe it’s to a world of superheroes, or perhaps a world of Jedi and Sith, or maybe it’s just a dreary world where Casey Affleck is having a hard time. Regardless of where you go, you’re encapsulated. For the next two or so hours, nothing else matters.

Or maybe it goes a little like this:

You open your laptop and flip through Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime…nothing looks interesting. You check Disney Plus and HBO Max… still nothing. You remember NBC has one too… what’s it called? Peacock, right, might as well give that a peruse…nah. You head back to Netflix, “oh, they have The Departed? Booyah.” You press play, and the hard streets of Boston fill your screen. You pick up your laptop and move to the kitchen. You throw Mr. Redenbacher in the microwave and fire it up. “I don’t want to be a product of my environment,” Jack Nicholson says in the background, begging for your attention. You barely hear him over the sound of kernels popping. Then your mom calls, you answer and talk for maybe five minutes with the movie playing in the background. “I’m trying to watch a movie ma!” You say, hoping to get off the phone. Somewhere far away, Martin Scorsese weeps.

What does your movie-going experience more closely resemble? While I pray it resembles the former, thanks to the current apocalypse, I’m sure it’s closer to the latter.

Even before COVID’s fiery calloused hands struck the world, going to the cinema was becoming increasingly rare. Today we have access to millions of films, readily available to stream at any time. With this supernatural ability to watch whatever we want whenever we want for eight dollars a month, why on earth would we go to an overpriced and overcrowded movie theatre?

Director David Lynch once said, “If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never, in a trillion years, experience the film.” In a certain sense, I think this also spans to laptops and tablets. Although tablets and laptops are definitely a far better option than your phone (seriously, don’t watch movies on your phone). 

Simply put, movies are meant to be seen in the cinema. Details of the film are enlarged and heightened. In general, no directors who are truly passionate about their work create films meant to be seen on a phone. Their vision is larger than life and their goal is to allow you to escape in it. I firmly believe that this escape is only truly possible in the cinema.

That being said, the streaming at home option certainly has its upsides. Thanks to streaming, we can watch films we never got to see and rewatch our favorites with incredible ease. If this isn’t a blessing from the God of Cinema, I don’t know what is.

Streaming also provides a level of convenience that cannot be ignored. The ability to pause may take away from the overall impact of a movie, but it’s certainly a nice feature to have when your dog poops on the floor. Outside of pausing, the power to watch a movie in bed, in the kitchen, or on the toilet is honestly pretty amazing. I myself have enjoyed many a film lying in bed in my pajamas, and I can’t deny that it feels good.

Admittedly, most of the movies I watch are from the comfort of my own home. However, my heart will always belong to the cinema. There is something about the smell of overpriced popcorn and the enormous silver screen that makes me feel a part of something bigger than myself. I hope, deep in my heart, that cinemas will always remain open. That I will always at least have the option to go. I truly feel that if movie theatres die, part of cinema’s soul will die right along with it.

If you feel differently than I do, that’s fine. All I ask is that next time you watch a movie from home, try the following: Use a TV, or the biggest screen you have. A laptop if you must. Close the blinds and turn off the lights. If you are using a laptop, use headphones, or turn the volume up all the way. Finally, try not to pause the movie, get comfortable and watch the film in its entirety. No breaks. You have my solemn vow that if you do this, your movie experience will be much more enjoyable.

And for the love of all that is holy, don’t watch the movie on your phone.