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The Commercialization of Cinema

The Commercialisation of Cinema. Illustration highlighting what cinema is about with popcorn and cold drink. Cinema food illustrations.
Marvel, Martin Scorsese, Disney, Netflix, Sony, Commercial, Streaming, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Amazon

Cinema has always been a vital part of peoples’ lives; one goes to the cinema with their friends or their family to watch a movie that they think is going to be a good watching experience. The requirement to watch a movie in a theatre depends on a variety of close-linked factors, but the entire experience of going to watch a movie in a theatre is something that is cherished by the entire world.

However, this has changed over the past years. Cinema’s definition has evolved; it is no longer the experience of going to watch a movie in a theatre while you munch on popcorn that very well pushed your credit card bill to the stratosphere, but is rather the act of sitting at home, comfortably in your bed or on your couch, and watching a movie on a streaming service.

Over the past few years, the advent of streaming services has overtaken the world by storm. Since they act as repositories to peoples’ favourite movies, it makes sense to buy a membership for an entire, as compared to buying a single ticket to watch a movie (which is without factoring in the outrageous cost of buying popcorn). And since these services are accessible by people at any point of time, it’s much easier for people to take out their phones to watch a movie of their choice rather than go to a theatre and watch whatever is being showcased.

The advent of streaming services has opened up an entire new genre of cinema: Commercial cinema. What I mean about commercial cinema is the use of cinema in such a way that it can be viewed, and be enjoyed, by large sections and demographics o population with the purpose of catering to the audience expectations, thereby raking in huge revenues and profits by doing so.

This feeling of commercial cinema cannot be showcased better than Martin Scorsese, the legendary director, saying that Marvel movies are not “cinema”. He said what he said because to him the original, actual cinema exists because of the moviemaker’s desire to express whatever it they want to, with genuine passion, without regard of their expression being accepted and embraced by the larger audience, because their expression is inherently not made for the larger audience.

Marvel, with its billion dollar grossers, is catering to its own specific demographic, which are the people that have been reading their comics and been following their foray into the MCU since its inception. This demographic is not limited to anyone, it can therefore be easily accessed, and has the capacity to embrace larger amounts of people over the course of the coming years. Their movies are not necessarily made to send a message, or to provide an avenue of artistic expression to the director or the playwright; they focus on providing their fans what they want, thereby ignoring the notion of making something for self-expression, which is critical to what actual cinema means.

This argument was further illustrated, and rather brilliantly, by the actor Stellan Skarsgard, when he was asked upon his opinion on the very same topic of Martin Scorsese saying that Marvel movies were not cinema. The actor said that when Martin Scorsese wrote his thoughts in that NYT article, he knew that it wasn’t Marvel’s fault, because the fault is that we had as a society, always believed that the market should be the ruler of everything, and by extension felt that the rich should get richer.

The actor then said that is was because of this inherent belief, the existence of small distribution companies that actually allowed up and coming directors who actually understood cinema, failed to exist because monopolies exist everywhere. He further went on to say that movie studios that exist today, don’t focus on true artistic expression, but view movies as a way to get a 10% return on their invested capital, and because of this approach, they make movies that can be seen by a large audience, with a scope of attracting even more over the coming few years. And this was the reason, according to the actor, that mid-range movies with budgets between $3-100 million have ceased to exist anymore.

This particular line of thought is extremely relevant, because when we see how true such a statement is, it is actually, poignantly true. As of right now, the movie studios sector that produces films in say, Hollywood, is extremely limited. Disney is effectively exercising a monopoly of movie development and distribution, alongside others like Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros, who hold more than 81% of the movie market, and held a combined share of a figure just below 75% in 2020.

Coming back to the streaming business, it is kind of the same as well. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max are some of the most dominant streaming platforms in the world, with the Big 3, namely Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, leading the way. This monopolization of streaming services, that also act as production houses for the development of special series that stream only on their respective platforms, are another indication for the commercialization of cinema and its subsequent application.

So, coming back to the original point of Scorsese saying that Marvel movies aren’t cinema, I agree with his thought process, because to him, cinema means something much bigger, something much more intimate than bringing characters to life, which can be cherished by millions worldwide. To do such a thing is genuinely amazing, and being a Marvel fan myself, I couldn’t agree more, but I also agree with what Scorsese says, because cinema is much bigger, and more open than monopolies exerting their control in the marketplace, because cinema has always had a place for anyone who had the desire, the courage and the determination to express themselves.