The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again?) of Rewatchable Movies

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Copyright 1994 Castle Rock Entertainment

What are your most rewatchable movies of all time, the ones that you simply cannot surf past when you see them on TV, the ones that you had on VHS when you were young until you wore down the tapes from repeated watching and rewinding or that had a permanent home in the DVD player?

I asked the others here at GeekDad for their input. Filtering out the obscure (I’m looking at you, Jim MacQuarrie), and in no particular order, here are 15 of the movies they rated their most rewatchable:

  • The Princess Bride (1987)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Galaxy Quest (1999)
  • Shrek (2001)
  • Oceans 11 (2001)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • Tommy Boy (1995)
  • Lethal Weapon (1987)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  • Airplane! (1980)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Memento (2000)

Until the early ’80s, the concept of rewatching a movie was confined to the annual airings of The Wizard of Oz, or, if you were lucky, an extended run at the theater. Some locations, for example, showed the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films for over a year, and Gone With the Wind boasted runs of over a decade.

That all changed with the advent of the home movie. No longer did a film have to be a gigantic blockbuster to be seen again and again. Even those that bombed in the theater could develop a following and become a hit long after their runs ended. One of the best examples of this is Mike Judge’s Office Space, barely breaking even at the box office, but later selling over 2.6 million copies on DVD and Blu-ray, becoming one of the top-selling home videos of its time. For studios, this meant the ability to take chances on movies with complex plots or rapid-fire dialogue that required more than one viewing to really enjoy (can you imagine watching Memento only once?), ushering in the Golden Age of the rewatchable movie.

Wait, what?!
Wait, what?!

So what is it about these movies that makes them so rewatchable? Given that most of the list above were released within a 15-20 year time frame that coincides with the explosion of home movies, maybe it’s simply that they are the most rewatched because they were the first ones that could be rewatched. Or, given that most of us grew up with these movies, perhaps it’s just nostalgia. However, there are loads of films from this era that didn’t make the list. Nobody mentioned Star Wars or Return of the Jedi, and only one picked The Empire Strikes Back. I asked the others why they chose the movies they did, and I think Corrina Lawson said it best.

“For me, rewatching is all about quotable lines.”

Strip away the marketing hype, the giant budgets, and the special effects, and every single one of the movies on this list has at least two or three brilliant actors who deliver perfect dialogue (this also explains the exclusion of anything written by Lucas). If there is any doubt, consider the outliers on this list. Released five and ten years, respectively, before the boom of the rewatchable movie, Airplane! and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are likely two of the most quoted films of all time.

So what happened? Surely there’s a reason why almost nobody is making rewatchable movies any more. Of course there is, and don’t call me Shirley. If you’re looking for someone to blame, you only have to look as far as your mailbox.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, SNL Kagan, and Informa Telecom, and as reported on redef.com, the crash of the home video market, in terms of both sales and rentals, was precipitated by the rise of Netflix. As DVD sales plummeted, movie studios began once again looking at opening weekend box office numbers as the primary indicator of a successful film. It was a return to the pre-VHS days, and the beginning of the end for any movie that couldn’t be completely digested in one single sitting by the least common denominator of the viewing public. With few exceptions (The Avengers and anything by Pixar come to mind), movies released in the last ten years rarely have the well-written dialogue that makes them rewatchable. They are designed to overwhelm the senses with their enormity, and then fade away until the next iteration of the same story comes along.

Image courtesy Redef
Image courtesy Redef

There are two possible scenarios for where home movies go from here. Currently, we are seeing a boom in rentals similar to that of the early ’80s. In our household, for example, we still don’t purchase as many movies as we did when the kids were little, but our Redbox and Amazon Instant Video rentals have gone through the roof. For movies like Inside Out that don’t really benefit from the big screen experience, I’ll spend two or three bucks renting it before deciding to drop $15-$19 buying a copy. Knowing I’d have to watch a movie 5-7 times to justify its purchase means we buy only the rewatchable ones.

However, after Inside Out, I may not have to rent another Pixar (or Disney Animation, Marvel, or Star Wars) movie ever again. In 2012, Disney signed an agreement with Netflix that says, starting in 2016, Netflix will be the exclusive U.S. subscription television service for first-run live-action and animated feature films from The Walt Disney Studios. If this deal proves lucrative for Disney, and rarely have they made a decision that didn’t, how long will it be before other studios start jumping on board? If I can turn on Netflix and watch Captain America: Civil War any time I want, why would I bother renting or buying it?

Given the declining number of moviegoers, particularly in the age 15-24 range, studios are scrambling to find new ways to keep our eyes glued to the screen. Hopefully, they’ll take a page from their own history and focus not only on opening weekend records, but also on the films that will do well with multiple rewatches, and once again start courting the home viewer. If that means less Jupiter Ascending, San Andreas, and American Sniper, and more Tarantino, Broken Lizard, and, forgive me for saying it, 20-Whatever Jump Street, I’m all for it.

What’s your most rewatchable movie? Sound off in the comments below.

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