Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – September, 2014

Netflix“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” said Seneca the Younger, or my freshman year guidance counselor, or the guy that sang “Closing Time” in the late ’90s.

Whoever it was, it’s certainly true – and nowhere more so than on Netflix Instant. At the end of each month we mourn the lost titles and celebrate the new arrivals, like The Circle of Life. This digital sloughing off is also an important reminder for denizens of the brave new Streaming World: if you don’t own it, it can go away. People like me need to keep that in mind when we pontificate about the impending death of physical media, or mock people who still get DVDs in the mail (where rights windows never expire, and classic films are far more prevalent).

If you love to binge on contemporary episodic television, the Netflix news has been filled with high profile acquisitions recently, like nine years worth of CBS’s Criminal Minds, the entire run of Showtime’s Californication, the first seasons of NBC’s The Blacklist (coming September 7) and El Rey Network’s From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, and recent seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead (September 29), the CW’s Arrow (September 14), ABC’s Once Upon a Time, CBS’ How I Met Your Mother (September 26), Fox’s New Girl (September 16) and Bones (September 16), NBC’s Parenthood, About a Boy (September 14), and Parks and Recreation (September 26), ABC’s Revenge and a bunch of reality shows I’m leaving out. And this is in addition to buzz-generating Netflix originals like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Hemlock Grove, and The Killing (resuscitated from AMC).

TV series licenses are expensive, as Netflix’s record $2 million-per-episode acquisition of The Blacklist demonstrates. But, as binge-watching becomes the Next Big Thing, TV series will continue to draw both programming dollars and new subscribers. An individual film won’t win a new Netflix customer, but a TV series might.

And Netflix remains a reliable resource for classic TV shows, as well, though Hulu made the bigger news earlier this year, furthering a multi-year deal with CBS to stream more than 5,300 episodes from the CBS/Paramount library, including iconic series like the original Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and The Brady Bunch. Hulu rarely has complete series runs, though, and the maddeningly repetitive commercials can still drive some classic TV fans back to their DVD shelves. (Netflix Instant does not have ads.)

AptBut for classic film fans, the news has been less encouraging. Today, Netflix Instant lost essentials like THE MUMMY (1932), THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), and THE APARTMENT (1960). In all, 29 pre-1990 titles left the service on September 1, with plans to add only 21 in the coming weeks – the vast majority from the 1980s, and none older than 1950. And while movies on Netflix tend to be more of a licensing hot potato than TV shows, with shorter rights windows that can reflect cable’s desire for short-term exclusivity (e.g. the ROCKY and STAR TREK films), the trend line is going in the wrong direction for classic films on Netflix.

It’s worth pointing out that the service already has far more old movies than you would ever get a chance to watch (unless you’re an unemployed insomniac), from FANTOMAS (1913) to BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980). A quick review of the ten sub-genre categories in Classic Movies brings up more than 650 suggestions, with an overwhelming majority of Dramas (187 titles) and a paltry showing for War Movies (only 17, including a few I’ve never heard of). But are they films you actually want to see? And if Netflix keeps registering aggregate loses in classic film titles each month, at what point will Old Movie Weirdos cut bait and fish in more specialized streams, like Warner Archive Instant?

UPDATE 9/2/14 6 p.m. (ET) I posted a comment on Facebook that I thought would be worthwhile sharing here:

I’m glad specialty streaming sites like Warner Archive Instant, Fandor, Mubi, and others exist, but those services preach to the film buff choir. The continuing tendency in modern media has been to relegate “old movies” into some sort of specialty niche category, instead of fostering an appreciation for all eras of filmmaking among mass audiences. With more than 36 million customers in the US alone (and 50 million worldwide), Netflix has (had?) a unique opportunity to expand access to, and awareness of, pre-1990 American film. It looks like that is not really happening. 
And that’s another reason why TCM is so important. It gives 85 million US homes an opportunity to stumble upon an old movie. It lowers the barrier to entry. I don’t want classic movies to be some sort of exclusive club that only the informed know how to find. I want them to be readily available to the masses, so that the subtextual message to uninformed viewers is that these films are worthwhile.

Here are the Netflix Classic Film Comings and Goings for September:

177August 31 GOINGs – 29:

1930s -1
The Mummy (1932)

1940s – 0
None

1950s – 2
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Delinquents (1957)

1960s – 4
The Apartment (1960)
El Dorado (1966)
Doctor Doolittle (1967)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

1970s -10
Black Mama, White Mama (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
Bucktown (1975)
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
At the Earth’s Core (1976)
Midnight Express (1978)
Convoy (1978) – Sept 5
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

1980s – 12
Popeye (1980)
Stir Crazy (1980)
Cujo (1983)
Streamers (1983)
Fool for Love (1985)
O.C. and Stiggs (1985)
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Silverado (1985)
About Last Night… (1986)
Gothic (1986)
Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)
Dirty Dancing (1987)

roman-holiday-posterSeptember 1 COMINGs – 21:

1930s/1940s
None

1950s – 2 
High Noon (1952) – Coming 9/12
Roman Holiday (1953) – 9/5

1960s – 3
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – 9/12
True Grit (1969) – 9/5

1970s – 3 
Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
Audrey Rose (1977)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

1980s – 13 
Ordinary People (1980)
The Blue Lagoon (1980)
The Elephant Man (1980)
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
The Believers (1987)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Spaceballs (1987)
Monkey Shines (1988)
The Presidio (1988)
Big Top Pee-Wee (1988) – 9/5

Sources: What’s On Netflix Now, The Huffington Post, Tech Times

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About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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11 Responses to Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – September, 2014

  1. Danny says:

    Man, who wouldn’t trade The Long Goodbye for The Blue Lagoon? … oh, no one in their right mind? That’s right.

  2. Ron Leckfor says:

    Netflix also removed Star Trek First Contact (1996) directed by Jonathan Frakes

  3. I had a free 1-month trial subscription to Netflix when it first came out in Canada about four years ago and I hated it. The Canadian line-up is absolutely horrid and is certainly not worth the $7.99/month subscription fee. One of my co-workers figured out a way to gain access to the US and UK versions of Netflix through her computer and she said those two versions are far superior to ours. I guess it’s all down to licensing, but I’m curious to know exactly how many Canadians subscribe to the Canadian Netflix because I don’t think it could be very many.

  4. My husband and I have a large collection of DVDs. Some are classics. Now I feel we should buy more. What’s nice about owning a copy is that you can watch it as many times as you like and whenever you like and do not have to worry about it being discontinued at the end of the month. And no commercials of course. I think it is so important that these films be preserved as well. We no longer get cable and I wonder if AMC is still working on film preservation.

  5. Sandy F. says:

    TCM is involved in film preservation and they still show classic movies without commercial interruption. I have found Warner Archive Instant a good source for the classic movie fan but I think it is only available in the US. They carry movies from the 1920’s to the 1980’s and they also have some Classic TV titles (like Dr. Kildare and Medical Center) and made for TV movies.

  6. I liked your comments about relegating classic films to a special “club” status. I agree that they should be available to everyone…after all, a person can watch the inane “Two & a Half Men” 5000 times a day. Classic films should be given at least a tenth of that amount of exposure.

  7. Le says:

    This is the great issue with Netflix: worldwide known, but with few opportunities for movie buffs. Here in Brazil the subscription is 14 a month, and the list used to include only two classics: Teacher’s Pet (58) and The Man of La Mancha (72). So… this service is not worth in my case 😦
    Also, the American line-up wouldn’t help me either… I’m familiar with most of the movies entering Netflix this month.
    Very good comment you made! Maybe we, classic film fans, will become an exclusive group in the near future…

  8. Pingback: Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – October, 2014 | cinematically insane

  9. Karen says:

    I was thrilled when I first discovered old movies on Netflix. I’ve loved them since my early 20s and thru the years even more. I’m having a hard time finding what all netflix has at any given time though. I guess that’s why blogs like this exist? I haven’t been on their website in a long time and searching using the app or even my ipad doesn’t seem to give me everything they have?? Anyway thanks for this. I’ve added some of these to my queue 🙂 I’m going to check out TCM & Warner. Never knew those options existed 🙂 Thanks!!

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