Television is on the march while cinema seems to be struggling for relevancy.
The “prestige gap” has been shrinking since the 1990s, and it’s just about entirely closed. Actors and directors no longer see television as beneath them. (Even Nicole Kidman is a TV star!)
The Academy agrees. Nearly half of this year’s Oscars went to streaming studios, which give their “movies” only a perfunctory release in the theaters. They meet the minimum requirements necessary to qualify for awards and their focus is almost entirely on viewers who will watch their films on a television.
There’s that word – “films.” Very few “films” are actually on film, and even movie theaters rarely have actual film anymore. Both movies and television shows are shot using the same technology.
Shot composition used to be a major difference between television and film. When you frame a scene for an enormous 16:9 screen, you do it differently than you do for a small 4:3 screen. But the 21st Century’s large digital screens have made this difference a relic.
Television has gotten much closer to film in terms of cultural salience. The only political film of the past decade that was seen by a wide audience is Get Out. Meanwhile, activists turned garb from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale into a protest symbol. Star Wars released a sequel trilogy, but its most beloved character – and best reviews – since the 80s came from a Netflix series.
When it comes right down to it, “film” and “television” are the same medium: motion pictures with synchronized sound. They’re just in different formats.
Even that is changing. As mentioned earlier, a huge chunk of this year’s Oscars went to what were functionally what we used to call “made-for TV movies.” Episodic storytelling has come to dominate both formats. My 8-year-old son who loves Star Wars,Marvel, and How To Train Your Dragon struggles to understand the difference between a movie and a TV show. They’re all just “shows” to him.
My prediction: I don’t think “movies are dying.” But I do think they’re losing their traditional dominance of the art form. I think cinema is in the position baseball was in the mid-60s. Until then, baseball was *the* American spectator sport. But football and basketball rose to challenge it. Baseball is still very much alive — it just has to share space with other sports.
I'm a journalist and film enthusiast who lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. I've been writing about movies for 15 years and I hosted a weekly movie review television show on UATV for two years.