Martin Scorsese has published a new essay in The New York Times that addresses his previous statements about Marvel movies not being considered cinema — a declaration that set off weeks of hot takes, Twitter bickering, and Instagram caption shade. It’s an absolute must-read.
Here’s just one of many good quotes:
The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.
Disney CEO Bob Iger’s ears must be burning something fierce! Scorsese’s less-than-subtle callout of Disney and its monolithic presence has resonated with cinephiles who have decried Disney’s power for some time. There’s a good reason: Disney’s dominance is both impressive and terrifying.
It’s also not totally new. Studios in the 1930s and ‘40s used to own theaters so they could control where their movies played, ensuring that audiences would watch their movies and not another studio’s film. It was also deemed unfair to customers, and the entire system was dismantled in 1948.
Disney doesn’t own theaters, but it does dominate the calendar year with blockbusters that people want to see. That makes it harder for other studios to find a weekend for a smaller release. 2020 may be a weaker lineup compared to the record-breaking 2019, but rival studios have to compete with Disney on 19 of the 52 weeks of the year. 2021 is even worse, with four Marvel movies and the return of massive franchises Avatar 2 and a new Indiana Jones film on the docket.
Scorsese isn’t the first director to call out Disney. Quentin Tarantino aired his own grievances with the company in December 2015. His movie, The Hateful Eight, was being shown on fewer screens than he wanted because Disney wanted Star Wars: The Force Awakens on as many screens as possible.
The New York Times essay also touches on streaming as an issue, but the two are closely related. Streaming is a wildcard. In many ways, it’s actually better for the industry since constantly needing new movies means that companies are ordering more films all the time. They’re also turning what would have been theatrical releases into streaming exclusives. Disney is already doing it with its live-action remake of The Lady and the Tramp. It started off as a theatrical release, but it wound up a Disney+ launch title.
Both independent, artsier movies that Scorsese likes and once-thought-to-be theatrical releases are being streamlined through streaming services. It’s an issue, according to Scorsese, because every movie should be experienced as a theatrical release, not just Marvel movies. He’s not wrong, but the remark comes when Netflix is distributing his new movie, The Irishman, in select theaters around the country before streaming it later this month.
Leaning on both streaming and theatrical releases makes perfect business sense for a company like Disney. Funnel riskier bets into streaming where customers are consistently hungry for new content, and use theaters for major franchise plays. Launching a streaming service is a big — and expensive — bet. Using theatrical releases for blockbusters might be bad for cinema as an art form, which Scorsese highlights, but it makes a whole lot of business sense.
Seriously, go read Scorsese’s New York Times essay. It’s well worth it.