Cinema Is Changing, But Why Does Martin Scorsese Fear It's Dying?

Martin Scorsese on the set of 'Kundun,' 1997.Credit: MARIO TURSI/TOUCHSTONE/CAPRA/DE FINA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK
With the line between TV, movies, and streaming continuing to blur, is cinema in trouble? 

You've seen us bemoan this topic before, so I'll be brief with the details. The rise in streaming compounded with the coronavirus changed Hollywood in the last year. It seemed like we jumped decades in months, with major studios opting to put releases online as well as in theaters for the first time ever.

This has been a leap forward in where cinema is going. In addition to that, studios opening departments to mine intellectual property and the expansion of tentpole movies, and relative shunning of other titles, shows that things may never go back to the way we knew them. 

Movies cost money, and the places with all the cash are favoring profits over art. Where there once was an intersection between commerce and art, now there's just commerce. And it's not only movie studios; entering the game are people like AT&T and Apple, traditional media companies who are buying and selling their own programming and their own platforms as well. 

All of this has contributed to the most interesting series of years in Hollywood history. Are we at the end of cinema? Is cinema dying? Martin Scorsese seems very worried, and I have to admit, I'm on his side. 

Check out this video from Thomas Flight, and let's talk after the jump. 

Cinema is changing, but why does Martin Scorsese fear it's dying? 

Let's make this clear; this is not a singular discussion about going to the movies. It's about what is happening to the art we love and where it could go in the future. While tentpole action movies are hard to make and deserve a lot of credit, I think we have already seen what they can add to the artform. 

The big question I think we are all asking as we watch more and more movies is, "What are they adding to the art form?"

A lot of the current problems go back to what studios prioritize making. We talked about this in our Beauty of Cinema article—we are constantly delivered a polished image that seems factory-formed. There's no studio challenging these common aesthetics. You have to dig into indie movies to really find people doing things differently. But even those are few and far between.  

Who is challenging cinema now? And if no one is, are we pushing the artform forward? 

Sure, innovation naturally slows down once the novelty wears off, but the voices we have going forward seem to be drowning out. We look at older directors, like Scorsese, and wonder who is taking up the mantle of pushing cinema into a new form or new art.

Cinema is a type of experience. It's leaving your house to watch something with other people. What you watch isn't based on IP or corporate mandates, but it's an original story that pays special attention to language, tradition, and form. 

That's a distinct experience today. 

Are we at the beginning of the end, or just a break in the process? 

The rise in streaming and the accessibility of movies is an amazing tradeoff for the decline of going to the theater to watch cinema. I can log onto Criterion or a similar app and find movies I could never access when I was younger. There are lots of lost gems that I can use to inform my knowledge of the medium and test what I can do in and outside of the form. 

While that's great, it comes at the cost of seeing these pieces of art surrounded by other people. And it also worries me that new artists are not seeing their work greenlit by these major corporations or studios. Sure, anyone can shoot something on their iPhone, but if no one sees your work, can you really be a filmmaker? Are you actually participating in cinema at all? 

The main issue I have with Hollywood today is that everyone is looking for the same thing. Something easily marketable comes with a "tested" audience, meaning it was developed from a book or remake or has some inherent value outside of just the idea. Hollywood also hates the bending of genres. While we might think that's what changes form and keeps ideas fresh, they see that as a marketing risk that could hurt the bottom line. 

That makes it increasingly hard for people who care about cinema and the cinematic experience to work in Hollywood today. 

So, where does that leave us? 

We have no idea what the next decade of Hollywood holds, but I hope that the rise in streaming could actually lend itself to the preservation of cinema. That doesn't mean just reissuing old classics, but it should mean these large corporations embracing the art and making a few movies a year that further the artform. There's always a chance these could be a hit and let them into new avenues. 

Even if they don't, the audience will get bored with these bubbles studios rely on. It's fun to see big action on the big screen, but how can we move people and create a deeper understanding of cinema as art? The only way is to continue to challenge the medium and lift new voices, so cinema does not pass as the icons of yesteryear age out of this plane and move onto the next. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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Your Comment


Maybe video games are the way to go...

May 18, 2021 at 11:52AM

Andre Balbuena
Director, writer

I agree with Andre. Cinema may be dying but videogames, Twitch and Youtube are becoming more relevant and a place where new ideas and creativity are embraced. People can forgive a bad two hour movie but you can’t forgive a bad game that cost 60-70 dollars. So more time and effort is put into new gaming IPs. Sony just invested a ton of cash into developing new gaming IPs. I don’t see the major studios doing that. A new videogame called Returnal came out for the PS5 and that game shows you what an original and engaging sci fi experience looks like with a weird and engaging story. And yet again you get to play as the character rather than passively watch, all while in stunning 4k HDR at 60fps.

Movies and TV will always be a thing , but sometimes we don’t want the standard three act structure that literally every single movie and tv show has these days. Returnal is a great example of turning the narrative on its head as its a roguelike game where if you die you start all the way at the beginning again and the story only progresses the farther down you reach. Gaming also has many more examples of developing better story mechanics than movies.

I love movies from the 60s and 70s because they would try some really weird and out there stuff. Sometimes it wasn’t always a linear structure. Some were good, some were bad. I know he’s canceled but a lot of Woody Allen movies from those days are great examples.

I think we have lost that spark and a lot of it has to do with everyone in this industry trying to “make” it. So you buy all the screenwriting books, and take the classes, and they are all teaching you the same crap. None of them are teaching you to take chances. I know a lot of filmmakers who look down on gaming, Youtube, and new media like Tik Tok. To me they sound like the old man bitching about the youth. Waiting for things to go back to the way they were . “Well back in my day…. bla bla.” Okay grandpa.

In the end change is coming for cinema whether we like it or not. Start trying new things and stop being afraid your script doesn’t fit the perfect 90 min to two hour time medium. It’s time for change.

Small note . I do find it refreshing that Netflix is embracing more things like Love , Death, and Robots. They are great short films ranging in different lengths and given a platform to thrive. Not all of them are good but they at least take chances. I’m hoping to see more things like it. They are all cinema in my opinion.

May 18, 2021 at 3:02PM


It's dying because he is helping it die by making movies like The Irishman.

May 18, 2021 at 4:31PM

Jacob J Gonzalez

The market is changing, young people are into gaming and new media more than they are into movies and TV. Cinema is dead, and "content" on streaming TV will be on a high note for another 10 years, and then it will go downhill as well. The era of passive entertainment is finished. What we're seeing right now is just the tail-end of the market where studios trying to clinch in there with recognizable IP (hence all the reboots/sequels). When the last of us older people go, the young ones won't care. Same for TV stuff. The future of entertainment is gaming-oriented.

May 18, 2021 at 8:18PM

Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist

That's nonsense. We've got video games for half of a century and from that, one decade of very high quality games now and it didn't kill off all the other forms of entertainment. Following your logic, sports events, concerts and things like that must also be dying as those and others are also passive forms of entertainment. I rather believe films in theaters and television are things of the past. Joker was the last movie I watched in the theatre and even though I really liked it, it was nothing I couldn't have enjoyed at home. But looking at my consumption of content, I overwhelmingly watch short form stuff on YouTube, a bit on Instagram, then mostly serials and films on Netflix or prime. What actually died completely in my and quite everyone else's lives is regular television and I wouldn't care less if cinema theatres disappeared as well.

May 18, 2021 at 11:16PM, Edited May 18, 11:19PM


The audience is changing so is the cinema. It is a process that cannot be reverted.

May 19, 2021 at 5:42AM

William Aston
Marketing manager

It was happening to all art forms. All artforms become transforms. It lost its original essence of it. Music, dance, literature - everywhere this is happening. Cinema is the last one.

May 21, 2021 at 8:15AM