2024, Movies

Is Streaming Better for Watching Great/Classic/Cult Movies?

I have a list of of 5,532 feature movies, TV shows and short films to watch. I have been adding to this list of movies for something like two decades. The list might seem like an impossible number of films and shows to watch, but I’ve already watched approximately 5,000 TV shows and films in my life and I certainly wasn’t trying to watch tons of them when I was a little kid.

But the number isn’t the point. Rather it’s a tool for figuring out what to watch next. The list has been assembled based on ratings and critics’ best of lists and contains most of if not all of the critically acclaimed films I have yet to see, among many other movie. The list used to be alphabetical, but during the pandemic I changed it to sorted by online ratings so the most acclaimed movies are highest on the list.

So it’s a good guide to decision making, at least for me. I find when we try to find a movie to watch, we often just pick something that neither of us are completely opposed to. But also I enjoy seeing good movies (and really terrible ones) and this list ensures that I will get to watch those fairly frequently.

But since the streaming wars took off, it seems like I’m having a harder and harder time finding some of these films on the streaming services we use. (I used to only use Netflix but we’ve had to expand to Prime and Disney+.) I have to rely on the library for many of them, which is unfortunately the TPL is currently unable to place anything on hold due to getting hacked. (I used to rely on Zip.ca for the rarer films but it long since died.)

So I was curious: how many films on my list are on streaming and how many aren’t?

Movies on Streaming

Here is my list of movies to watch sorted by streaming service:

Streaming ServiceNumber of Films/ShowsPercentage
CBC Gem490.89%
National Film Board of Canada230.42%
Miscellaneous other streaming services61.08%
Not Available to Stream*305555.22%

So there are a few glaring things that jump out at me.

The first is that the majority of the movies are not actually available to stream. Now, this is not entirely accurate as, when I started making my list, I included online rentals in the “not available” category. I would estimate that something like a third to half of the “not available” films are available to rent through Apple or Google Play or Prime, so it’s not as bad as it looks.

Whenever the library’s hold services come back, at least some of these films will also be available on DVD through the library so, again, it doesn’t look quite as bad.

But it’s still pretty damning for streaming services. Not even half of these movies can be streamed? Why am I paying for streaming services that don’t have a selection?

The second thing that really stands out, and I sort of knew already, is how bad Netflix does here. We all know how Netflix pivoted to their own original content a while ago, and it’s been pretty bad for subscribers like me, who have been with them since (almost) the beginning in Canada, and who remember when they had a lot more selection. My new favourite streaming service, Tubi, has a number of films that used to be on Netflix, and I don’t have to pay them and just have to suffer through ads.

At least by my list, Tubi is far and away the industry leader here in terms of selection, with Prime second. However, that Prime total includes films and shows available only through their add-on services, so the basic Prime service has substantially less choice.

The third thing that really jumps out is how many damn streaming services there are. On my list of movies to watch, there are 32 streaming services. 32! It’s basically cable but channels cost more. As we all already know, the streaming wars have produced an absurd situation where consumers have to subscribe to multiple services to come close to having the choice that was originally available on Netflix. (Though I hear some studios are thinking of returning their content to Netflix, but I don’t how true that is.) But it’s worse for those of us who seek out unusual, cult or even just foreign films – a majority of the movies I have decided I want to watch before I die are just not available to stream, even if I was insane and subscribed to all 32 services.

What are we even doing here? What is the point of paying for streaming films and TV shows if a majority of the ones that exist aren’t available to watch?

I’m glad I finally figured out the locations of half the movies and TV shows I want to watch are. But I’m very disappointed to confirm my worst fear. And I’m not sure how I’m supposed to solve this problem. There are very few video stores. And services like Zip.ca were killed off by Netflix and its competitors.

I guess I have to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how much leisure time I find, I will never come close to watching all these films and shows, because technology and greed have made it impossible.

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