- Films and series are being quietly removed from streaming services without notification to paying customers.
- Christopher Nolan emphasizes the importance of owning physical media, as streaming removes personal ownership and leaves consumers at the mercy of the streaming platform.
- HBO Max and Disney+ have been removing titles from their catalogs and adding them later onto paid platforms for rental or purchase.
Imagine you’re relaxing and scrolling through your favourite streaming service. You see Bridesmaids with Melissa McCarthy and recall that the actress starred in 2020’s Superintelligence. You decide to watch the film and search for the title, but you cannot find it. You think you’re going crazy because you remember seeing it listed in the comedy section not too long ago. You decide to look for another film; this time, you search for Robert Zemeckis’ 2020 remake of The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway, Chris Rock and Stanley Tucci. You saved it to your watchlist a few months earlier, and you keep scrolling but can’t find it either. You enter the title in the search option, and to your dismay, nothing. According to Variety, titles like Superintelligence have quietly been removed from streaming services with no awareness by most paying customers, and Christopher Nolan has the solution to combat this.
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Christopher Nolan recently drew attention to the disappearance of films and series on streaming services. The Washington Post interviewed the Oppenheimer director, who told Post writer Jada Yuan, “There is a danger, these days, that if things only exist in the streaming version, they do get taken down; they come and go.” While promoting Oppenheimer’s DVD release, the Dark Knight director spoke to IGN about owning physical media.
“If you buy a 4K UHD, you buy a Blu-ray, it’s on your shelf, it’s yours, company is gonna break it into your house and take it from you. It’s yours and you own it.”
Christopher Nolan then emphasised how streaming removes personal ownership and leaves the consumer at the mercy of the streaming platform. Nolan said, “That’s never really the case with any form of digital distribution. You’re relying on the continued health of the supplier.”
HBO Max was the party guilty of these films mentioned above. The streaming service quietly removed these and many other films without notification. Streaming platforms, like Max and Netflix, regularly remove titles, but they announce what they are removing well in advance. Not only Max, but Disney + has also started withdrawing original material and adding them onto paid platforms outside the direct-to-customers streaming model.
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Disney angered subscribers recently when it removed the original sci-fi film Crater. According to The Independent, the streaming service pulled the film made by the producers of Stranger Things after only two months on Disney +. Crater is about a boy growing up in a lunar mining colony who travels with his friends to explore a legendary crater before being relocated to another planet. The movie starred Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s Mckenna Grace. Writing in IGN on Crater’s removal, Adele Ankers-Range said,
“Its departure from the platform follows the May removal of more than two dozen shows across Disney Plus and Hulu. Perhaps the most high-profile of these was Willow, which wrapped up its run less than six months earlier. Disney’s new strategic approach to content curation, combined with the mass exodus of content from platforms such as Max, has raised some questions about media preservation. With few receiving physical releases, more and more titles seem fated to disappear from existence entirely.
However, some HBO shows have started to arrive on Netflix under Warner Bros Discovery’s new licensing deal. Insecure was recently added to Netflix’s library for US subscribers, with Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Six Feet Under, and Ballers set to arrive at a later date as part of an agreement co-exclusive with Max.”
Renting is Back
Companies like Max and Disney have been attempting to recoup costs and cover their losses by shelving films before their release. Another tax-break strategy is removing titles from their catalogue and adding them later onto renting sites like Vudu and Amazon.
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Drew Taylor from The Wrap said, “Disney started pulling content from its direct-to-consumer streaming platform Disney+ earlier this year, following the streaming content bubble bursting spectacularly. Now, some of it is beginning to reappear – on paid platforms. Disney didn’t publicise this; they just showed up with as little fanfare as when they were removed in the first place.”
The removed titles now available to rent (for around $4) or buy (for $20) are Artemis Fowl, Better Nate Than Never, Crater, Cheaper by the Dozen, Flora & Ulysses, Stargirl, Hollywood Stargirl, The One and Only Ivan, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made and the documentary Wolfgang. Disney+ original films that have yet to show up for rental or purchase are Black Beauty, Magic Camp and Darby and the Dead.
Director Guillermo del Toro shared Christopher Nolan’s sentiments regarding streaming services. Del Toro posted on X and said owning physical media is a responsibility. He also said, “If you own a great 4K HD, Blu-ray, DVD, etc. of a film or films you love…you are the custodian of those films for generations to come.”
The curation of physical media fell off the bandwagon with the death of the DVD. Digital has become all the rage; most viewers have opted to rent or buy online. With the advent of streaming, even fewer customers rented or bought films and series online, instead opting to join a paid subscription to Netflix, Max or Disney +. With the death of the DVD also came the slow death of Blu-ray.
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In many regions, new Blu-ray players are unavailable for purchase. As far back as 2019, Forbes ran a report that said Samsung would be phasing out Blu-ray players from its manufacturing catalogue. In the United States, Best Buy announced they, too, would be phasing out Blu-ray discs and DVDs.
Nolan told IGN that DVD and Blu-rays are an “essential revenue stream”, and he doesn’t understand why studios would undermine the long-term health of the film industry for the short-term financial benefits of streaming. Emma Thompson, Producer on Oppenheimer, also told IGN she thinks the slow death of physical media is a “terrible thing for consumers.” She also believes it’s a terrible thing for filmmakers who want their films to have a life beyond whatever their initial release is.”
Physical media sales were an integral part of a film’s profits. If a film made a loss or broke even at the box office many times, that film could recoup costs and profit with DVD and Blu-ray sales. Nolan’s rallying cry has alerted more people to the disappearing media problem and should wake film fans to the present danger to film preservation.
Marc C. Scott, a senior lecturer in Screen Media at Victoria University, writes in The Conversation journal that,
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“Content removal raises questions associated with streaming services – and their overarching corporations – wanting to save money. This can be done through the removal of content, which the corporation can write off as losses.
This not only impacts consumer access, but also impacts actors, writers, directors and other creatives involved in the production. This is due to the fact that if the profits are less, then the residual payments (fees paid when TV shows and films are broadcast) made to the creatives involved in the production are also lowered.”
Scott adds, ‘The removal of content is not particular to any streaming service. Hulu wiped shows such as Alaska Daily and The Company You Keep from its service after they were cancelled following a single season. Programs that were removed after being cancelled on Disney+ have included Big Shot, Diary of a Future President, Just Beyond, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, Turner & Hooch and Willow.”
Scott highlights a significant problem affecting title removal and revolves around original content. “What needs to be considered with many of these is that they are “originals”, meaning they were created by Disney for Disney. The removal of original content from streaming services, in most instances, means they will not be accessible to viewers anywhere,” Scott said.
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He also mentions that removing content penalises creators financially and disables them from using past work as a calling card to get future gigs. Few subscribers or even the creators themselves own physical copies of their work, especially if it was an original release that only exists on a select streaming platform.
Most new content on streaming services does not come with physical copies, and the lack of retail companies selling physical media means it’s impossible to curate a physical media library for posterity. Christopher Nolan mentioned that with digital distribution like streaming, the consumer doesn’t own anything, and access to films and media is dependent on the state of the supplier.
Suppliers’ whims and financial decisions could erase many more films and series of significant cultural and personal importance. Marc Scott makes the chilling conclusion that much of our heritage and cultural knowledge could become lost forever without archiving physical media. As time passes and more films and media become exclusively digitised, we can’t even begin to be aware of what films could be lost from the present and future generations.
The solution must be for film studios to be more transparent about what is withheld from the public and why. Directors and writers should also insist that films and series receive a physical media release, even a limited edition printing. Finally, audiences and film fans must realise that streaming is not a utopia. Digital is convenient but not always the best in the long term, and instead of assuming your favourite film will be on a streaming site also, buy a physical copy just in case.
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- Christopher Nolan and Guillermo Del Toro have highlighted how critical physical media like Blu-rays and DVDs are.
- Streaming services are increasingly removing films without the customers’ awareness.
- Digital distribution is convenient, but consumers should also own physical media to archive their favourite films.
What do you think about disappearing films on streaming platforms, the death of Blu-ray and DVDs, and Christopher Nolan’s solution? Please share your thoughts below.
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