The Rise of 'Theatre Quality' Movies

 In 1997, a poorly planned trip to the cinema left me watching Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  It was my own darned fault.  You see, I was a teenager and obviously didn't respect myself enough.  When 1999 rolled around, I saw Wing Commander in theatres with some friends.  Once again, my own darned fault as I was a young adult who obviously didn't respect myself.  In 2000, it was Dungeons and Dragons as well as Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.  A year later, I saw 13 Ghosts.

I have had a history of seeing awful movies in theatres, but also have seen as many mediocre and amazing films.  We would see the trailers or the movie poster hanging from the wall within the local cinema, and, as a collective of friends, would make a decision based off of those things.  Sometimes bad decisions were made, but not once with any of those awful films did I ever think, "Well, that wasn't theatre quality."

Back then, theatres had both ends of the quality spectrum (just like we still do today) and there really wasn't any more to it than that's just the way it goes.  I never got mad at New Line Cinema for distributing Dungeons and Dragons.  There was no reason to.  It was a movie... why not put it in theatres?

Now, with streaming services being prominent and creating their own content, a new way of thinking has evolved.  A few years ago, with Netflix desperately wanting to show they could host movies that were good enough to be in theatres, they doomed themselves to creating a comparison that had not existed before.  Almost every time I see a Netflix original lately, there is at least a brief moment where I assess (either consciously or subconsciously) if it was good enough to see in theatres.

There have always been movies that are of a quality that is just awful and has us viewers scratching our heads over why we chose to watch such a thing.  Sometimes the films were in theatres, sometimes it was an obscure rental, and perhaps it was a movie found in the bottom of a 'bargain bin' in a store.  My friends and I would watch them and think, well that was awful.  Not once did anyone say, "Hey, that was high enough quality to be in theatres," or, "Man, that should have been just straight to video."  The theatre wasn't (at least for me) an indicator of a film being a superior quality to anything else.

Netflix kind of made this new level of comparison from their desire to convince people that they could see the same quality of films on their computers than in theatres.  For a lot of us, the theatre does provide a unique and wonderful experience, but we also knew that there really wasn't any kind of standard that dictated what a 'theatre movie' was.  When Netflix wanted to capture that experience (which they could never do despite the 'quality' of their films because we would still not be seeing it on the massive screen with the impressive sound) they set themselves up for future critiques.

Streaming was its own beast, and was evolving in a way that theatres couldn't.  I'm sure that the push for Netflix was to convince people that subscribing to their platform would be as good as going to the theatre, which, once again, wasn't going to happen regardless of the quality of films.  The entire experience is different, and by making it an argument about quality they opened themselves up to criticisms of their own creation.

Maybe I'm in the minority.  Perhaps hordes of people out there always took a moment after seeing a film in the theatre to debate whether or not is was good enough quality for that type of release.  If the internet had become more accessible and popular a decade earlier, mayhaps there would have been forums full of enraged interwebbers complaining about the calculation of platform versus quality.

There have been a few times (with movies like Prey and The Mitchells vs the Machines) where I have organically thought, "I would have much rather seen that in the theatre," but the truth is that I would preferred seeing everything on a proper screen with the best sound available.  Money is the reason why I don't watch absolutely everything in theatre.  If money wasn't a restriction I would see everything (and I mean everything) in theatres, not because it automatically means that the film is a higher level of quality, but because it's the best experience.  Netflix created a new superficial way of looking at movies, and with the general lower quality of their original films it's only birthing a never before needed way for us to criticize them.