Screenwriter and writing community hero John August posed a question on Twitter a couple of days ago. He was surprised to find that some major movies are not available to stream or buy in the US, despite their clear value and audience interest.
He asked people to add any other movies they find which fit his criteria (i.e. top 100 mainstream, English-language movies) and which are not currently available to stream, rent or buy digitally in the US.
This sounded like a fun challenge, so I took it on. I expanded the criteria slightly to look at the 200 top grossing movies of the past two decades, 4,000 movies in total.
I’m also going to subdivide the ‘top films’ of each year into three cohorts:
- Highest Grossing, measured via the US box office gross.
- Most Loved, measured by IMDb audience scores (out of 10).
- Best Reviewed, measured by Metascore, which is an average of all major film critics (out of 100).
Digital availability of top movies (1998-2017) in the US
Let’s look at the big picture first, then we’ll zoom in to get more detail.
Across all 4,000 movies, just under half are available to stream via subscription, 92% can be rented digitally and 95% can be bought digitally. The availability is slightly better for the highest grossing 50 movies, as opposed to the top 50 as judged by audiences and film critics.
Streaming availability – how deep is the stream?
Let’s start by looking at what movies are available to stream via subscription.
Across all 4,000 movies in the dataset, I tracked 23 different subscription streaming services. This is a market dominated by a few huge players, with Netflix offering almost one in five of the movies, and Amazon Prime Video and Starz not far behind.
If a film is available to stream then it’s most likely to only be available on just one platform.
There is a strong skew towards more modern movies, with 80% of 2017 movies (i.e. those first released in cinemas in 2017) available, compared with just 38% of 2015 movies.
Next, let’s turn to digital rentals. The top two spots in the availability chart are taken by Google projects, namely the Google Play Store and YouTube (this is paid rentals, not pirated streaming!)
We also see a much higher availability rate than with streaming, with over 90% of movies available on at least one platform.
Movies tend to appear on more than rental platform simultaneously (much more so than we saw with streaming). More than nine out of every ten movies are available on at least one platform. The highest grossing films are the cohort available on the greatest number of platforms, with over 80% available on more than three platforms at the same time.
Interestingly, there is the opposite skew in availability over time than we saw with streaming. Movies released in the last year or two are the least likely to be available to rent on any platform when compared to older movies.
Last, and certainly not least, is digital purchases. This category had the highest availability, with over 80% of all movies available on all of the six biggest platforms.
Distribution of top grossing movies is extremely widespread, with the top 50 grossing movies of each year being offered for sale on five or more platforms. Most Loved and Best Reviewed films have a lower distribution reach, 94% and 93% respectively, and are available on at least one platform.
The vast majority of movies are available to purchase, even those first released in cinemas twenty years ago.
John’s original question was about movies which are not available to stream, rent or buy in the US. So, in answer to that, here is a list of 120 such movies.
The movies below were all in the top 200 grossing movies of their year of release.
- BO rank = US box office rank (1 is the top grossing movie that year)
- Meta rank = Metascore Rank (1 is the best-reviewed film that year)
- IMDb rank = IMDb audience Rank (1 is the highest-scoring film that year)
- Metascore = Average of all critics, out of 100.
- IMDb = Average audience score, out of 10.
Note: It could well be that one or two of these are actually available, either on an obscure platform or incorrectly labelled (and therefore lost in the data analysis). If you spot any such films within a week or so of this article’s publication then let me know and I’ll update this list. After that, I won’t be updating it as availability will constantly change and so this stands as a record of the situation in mid-August 2018, rather than a live representation of the market as it may appear to you now.
UPDATE – Top 100 1970-2017
John asked me to run the stats a bit further back in time. To do this I narrowed to John’s criteria of top 100 grossing movies.
As you can see below, all forms of digital delivery skew towards more recent films.
Across his criteria, 335 films were unavailable on all platforms. You can view the raw data in this Google Spreadsheet.
If you’ve enjoyed this jaunt into the availability of top movies then here are a few older articles from the blog to continue your journey:
- Three major ways movie release patterns are changing
- How movies make money: $100m+ Hollywood blockbusters
- What are Video on Demand audiences watching?
- The numbers behind Netflix Original movies and TV shows
The data for today’s piece came from a number of sources, including Just Watch, IMDb, Box Office Mojo, The-Numbers/ Opus, Wikipedia and Rotten Tomatoes with verification achieved via Netflix, iTunes, Vudu and a host of other providers. Of the 4,000 films I studied, I found streaming, rental or purchase data for 3,956 movies (99%) and Metascores for 3,766 movies (94%).
In a small number of cases, the top movie groups may include one or two more movies than their name suggests, due to identical scores. For example, in 2006 both Children of Men and Volver received a Metascore of 84. This means they are tied for 10th place, and consequently, both appear in the Top 10 Best Reviewed group for 2006.
This research focuses on US access to these movies. I could expand it to other countries if there’s a desire.
Thanks to John August for posing such an interesting question. These are exactly the type of challenges that are fun to crack and hopefully useful to filmmakers and film professionals.
If you have a similar question or conundrum, please do drop me a line or ask in the comments below.
Incredible research, Stephen! Thank you, as always.
Two updates I noticed for the Missing Classics database: Disobedience and Goodbye Christopher Robin are available on Google Play in the U.S.
Unavailability is what made me start downloading movies 20 years ago (it all started with The Phantom Menace, if those around at the time recall). I have now almost 5000 movies and I checked the list (I stopped at letter K because it’s clear piracy is quite ahead of legit distribution) and I have the following movies:
A Single Man – Tom Ford
After Hours – Martin Scorsese
Aladdin – Ron Clements, John Musker
Apocalypto – Mel Gibson
Bullets Over Broadway – Woody Allen
Caddyshack – Harold Ramis
Candyman – Bernard Rose
Casino Royale – Martin Campbell
Cocoon – Ron Howard
Dogma – Kevin Smith
Fahrenheit 9/11 – Fahrenheit 9/11
Fame – Alan Parker
Fight club – David Fincher
He Got Game – Spike Lee
Heavenly Creature (non Heavenly CreaturD) – Peter Jackson
Henry & June – Philip Kaufman
Howl’s Moving Castle – Hayao Miyazaki
Inland Empire – David Lynch
Instinct – Jon Turteltaub
Jungle Fever – Spike Lee
Kundun – Martin Scorsese
many of them are dvd rips so it would be a breeze to made them available online to stream.
And, yes, I understand collecting pirated movies is illegal, but that’s the way it goes.
Interesting research. And this is just the Box Office top 200. Would love to know more about the other many thousands of “good films” out there – independent, narrative or documentaries, verticals, international… Those which never had a real chance in the old distribution industry. Did digital change their opportunity – or same old story?
This is interesting. With the advent of streaming in the past few years, I wonder if this has changed. Is it possible to update this data set?