Rewatching Movies Has Gone the Way of the Dodo

Rewatching Movies Has Gone the Way of the Dodo

10 min read

Reflections on a life on repeat

One aspect of parenting I've always taken more seriously than it probably warrants is showing my kids the good stuff. They knew Luke Skywalker before Santa Claus. (Not really, but it sounded cool and the sentiment is accurate.)

My daughter generally has a 'take it or leave it' vibe when it comes to movies. She'll watch them, but she won't really go out of her way to do so. My son loves movies. But even he has never watched them the way I did, and still do: Repeatedly, religiously. How many movies does he know by heart? Does he pepper his dialogue with quotes? Does anyone younger than 30?

Wondering about all this, I texted him. (We live in the same house but he was on the opposite end and texting is easier, which is a good summary of modern life.)

His response: he's seen Avengers: Infinity War, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Fellowship of the Ring four times each. Four watches of his all-time favorite movies is a rookie number. I don't have an exact count but I can safely say I've seen the original Star Wars trilogy dozens of times. Likewise Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Heck, by the time I was his age (19, if you were wondering), I'd seen Lucas and Over the Top and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome more than four times, and I'm not even sure those are good movies.

This is not a slight of my son, but instead a broader observation about how watching movies has changed culturally.

I have to believe the sheer ubiquity of options is partly behind this shift. Why would anyone rewatch something when there's all this other stuff on Netflix? The reason we rewatched movies in the 80s and 90s was because the VHS was just sitting there, waiting to be watched, and we literally had nothing better to do. It was the age of appointment viewing, of planning your day based on when your favorite TV show would air. Movies played on cable but you couldn't queue them up when you were ready–you had to be ready when they were on. And, in fact, movies often re-aired regularly for a few weeks or months at a time, which is how I ended up rewatching that movie where Patrick Dempsey is a pizza delivery guy who bangs lonely housewives who order extra anchovies. The movie is not good, but it was on, so I watched it.

Sheer volume and availability of content may be partly to blame, but it turns out that watching movies is just not a Gen Z priority.

Twenty six percent of Gen Zers in the survey cited playing video games as their favorite entertainment activity, compared to 14% for listening to music, 12% for browsing the internet and 11% for engaging on social media. Only 10% said they would rather watch a movie or TV show at home. ~ via the LA Times

Obviously, anytime people are grouped into something as broad as a generation, you're painting with a big ass brush. I'm sure there are plenty of Gen Zers who have watched the entire 20-something MCU saga as many times as I've seen Star Wars. People still go unfathomably deep into their favorite things. It's not the depth of their passion I'm questioning, but the breadth. How many would-be cult classics will never become adored simply because they never get the necessary screentime?

My son may never know the simple joy of dropping a semi-obscure quote on someone and having them respond in kind. It's the sense of being seen and the jolt of recognition at the same time.

My brother and I frequently use movie quotes in our conversations, to the point that it has become its own quasi-dialect. Someone might overhear and recognize the quote, but they will never understand the true meaning.