Editor’s Note: Welcome to Film Obsessive’s newest feature series, “Off the Shelf.” Each Saturday our writers share the joys of physical media, from reviews of new 4K and blu-ray releases to reflections on the treasured media they’ve come to collect and cherish over the years.
It may seem hard to believe but there was once a time when your favorite film would vanish. That’s right, before the advent of physical media once a movie was shown in theaters it was gone. This was part of the reason why many older films had such good legs at the box office. If you really liked what you saw, you would go see it a bunch of times because once it was gone it was gone—and there was no guarantee it would ever return to theaters or be available on television.
The Age of the VHS and Rental
All of that changed once physical media came along! Suddenly films had a new lease on life, popular movies could be enjoyed again and again, even shared with your friends and family. However, more importantly, films that underperformed at the cinema suddenly could be rediscovered. The most famous of these is the film The Boondock Saints. Once discovered at Blockbuster it went on to earn $50 million in rentals alone!
The advent of VHS tapes created a whole subculture of video rental stores. These became a place where you could go on weekends to browse, talk, and eventually find and rent your favorite flick. I still remember my parents driving me to Blockbuster to pick out a movie, it was so exciting.
Often it was a race to get a new release as the stores only had a limited amount, I remember calling and getting the employee to hold one, and then racing down to pick it up.
Then a little something called Netflix came along, and eventually, as streaming became the number one medium of film consumption, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video went out of business. My love affair with buying physical media really began with the death of rental stores, Hollywood Video had a massive going out of business sale and were selling off all their VHS and DVDs.
I did not own a DVD player at the time but I bought dozens of VHS tapes of old classics. One of my favorites, Bad Day at Black Rock, a film about how bigotry can hid anywhere, follows a wounded vet who goes to the town where a close friend of his from the military lived, only to find he had vanished amidst a dark conspiracy. It’s a fantastic watch!
The False Security of Streaming
As streaming got to be more and more popular I began to buy less and less physical media. After all, why should I be buying TV shows and movies, when I can stream them on Netflix, Hulu, or any of the other services I subscribed to. Then a few things happened. I was in the middle of S7 of Stargate SG-1 when the show disappeared from streaming. A few years later I was enjoying a rewatch of Scrubs when it too was yanked.
This began happening with all my favorite shows and movies. As many know this is due to the owners of said films and TV shows signing a contract with the streamer and then the contract expiring. One show that is unavailable besides a few episodes is Bonanza; another is Have Gun Will Travel. The hit detective show Moonlighting is nowhere to be seen. Streaming had lulled me into a false sense that I owned these films and shows when in reality I was only “renting them” and they could and were being yanked away.
To add to that a few times my internet went out and I found I was totally cut off from my digital collection of films! I ended up dragging out my old VHS player and watching a Charlton Heston classic! This made me release that if I was truly a film buff and wanted to protect my collection of films and TV shows, I needed to begin collecting physical media again.
The Perks of Physical Media
There are a lot of perks to collecting physical media,
- Not every film is on streaming: many of the golden age films from Hollywood’s past are not streaming yet are available on DVD or Blu-ray.
- You can’t always control the quality at which you watch your films on streaming, however when you buy a Blu-ray or 4k copy, you have that quality LOCKED IN forever!
- Physical media is often loaded with special features, such as audio commentaries with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers, and more. Check out Rob Chipman’s “Feature Presentations” for examples.
- Special edition cover artwork and Steelbooks.
- Completely own the film you bought.
- Some Steelbooks are collector’s items whose value goes up over the years.
The Joy of Collecting
You are likely asking “How can I start collecting physical media? Or “How can I start when movies are expensive to buy?” as with any type of collecting you ha to be smart and look around. I build my physical media collection by buying films and TV shows when they are on sale. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are GREAT times to start collecting, films are often only $3-$5 for a Blu-ray and 4K’s which are normally $29 are often on sale for $10-$15. another good place to start your collection is your local Walmart which has bins full of DVDs and Blu-rays for $3-$5, even packs of four or more films for reasonable prices.
Lastly, eBay is a great source for buying used movies, I myself have purchased many for very cheap! In short, to start collecting physical media you don’t have to break the bank. Collecting physical media is lots of fun. Over the years I have accumulated over 350 DVDs, Blu-rays, 4K discs, and VHS tapes. I find you get a lot of enjoyment as you hunt for rare steelbooks, share your finds with friends, and enjoy watching your favorite movies again and again.