When the Twitter feed for Disney+ published a thread listing every title subscribers could find on the new service, some pop culture fans cheered. But even as commenters celebrated the chance to revisit pre-’70s family films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, others noted the absence of early films in other genres, especially from Disney’s newly acquired 20th Century Fox back-catalog.
On one hand, this lack shouldn’t be a surprise. Disney+ bills itself as a family service, and there are plenty of other outlets where one can find and stream movies. On the other hand, a number of critics have found that these services tend to overwhelmingly favor recent cinema over the old. Sure, Netflix still carries gems like the Kino Lorber collections of films directed by women and African Americans, and you can rent foundational works like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or The Wizard of Oz through Amazon. But these exceptions prove the rule that subscription services tend to primarily carry movies from the past thirty years.
As a result, the public has fewer opportunities to explore and learn about the history of cinema. Fewer and fewer modern viewers will get the chance to wrestle with films that built the foundations of the movies they love, or come to understand filmic language that predates the modern blockbuster era, let alone the New Hollywood revolution of the ’70s. In short, restricted access to first 70 years of movies makes us all a little less literate in what has become the dominant storytelling medium.
That’s particularly troubling in October, when audiences tend to make a point of not only watching horror movies, but of expanding their horizons in search of new thrills, tales of suspense, and haunting visuals. Now more than ever, movie fans want to watch important films in the genre or discover surprising works they’ve never heard about. But as subscription-based streaming services continue to overtake rental stores, indie and arthouse theaters, and cable, it becomes harder and harder for an enterprising viewer to broaden their tastes.