Did movies used to be better? Short answer: no. This year alone, we’ve had movies like RRR, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Elvis, Prey, The Northman, Top Gun: Maverick, Thirteen Lives and other movies that confirm the art of cinema is not only alive, but capable of churning out real bangers.
But let’s reframe the questions a little: Did there used to be more good movies? That might require a longer answer. It certainly seems hard to argue that we live in an age of franchises, sequels and remakes. And while any of those movies are capable of being good, they’re all very much a certain kind of movie — a big, multi-million dollar extravaganza that has been focus tested and algorithm-approved into the safest possible version of itself. And while there are still mid-budget movies for grownups that feel more personal, daring or cerebral than your standard studio fare, it does kind of seem like there used to be more of them.
Matt Damon seems to think so anyway. And what’s more, he’s got a theory about why that actually kind of tracks. In a 2021 appearance on Christopher Schonberger and Sean Evans’ “Hot Ones,” Damon makes his case for who is to blame for the death of “movies for me,” in between bites of volcanic hot sauce. His culprit? The death of the DVD.
Matt Damon explains why they don't make movies like they used to. pic.twitter.com/BhWypzcsgQ
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“So what happened was the DVD was a huge part of our business, of our revenue stream,” Damon said. “Technology has just made that obsolete, and so the movies that we used to make you could afford to not make all of your money when it played in the theatre because you knew you had the DVD coming behind the release.”
“I talked to a studio executive who explained it was a 25 million dollar movie,” Damon continued. “I would have to put that much into print and advertising to market it …so I’d have to put that in P&A, so now I’m in 50 million dollars. I have to split everything I get with the exhibitor, right, the people who own the movie theaters, so I would have to make a hundred million dollars before I got into profit. And the idea of making a hundred million dollars on a story about this love affair between these two people …that’s suddenly a massive gamble in the way that it wasn’t in the 1990s when they were making all those kinds of movies. The kind of movies that I loved. The kinds of movies that are my bread and butter.”
Damon was a fixture of the mid-budget prestige film during the early part of his career, when Rounders, Good Will Hunting and The Talented Mr. Ripley made him a star. Of course, movies like Saving Private Ryan, Ocean’s Eleven and the Bourne movies elevated his status significantly, and helped popularize the big budget film. But Damon has always tried to keep one fit in the low-flying dramas like, recently, Ford v Ferrari and Stillwater. Next up, he will be in the decidedly not low budget Christopher Nolan epic Oppenheimer.