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The Future of the Movies, Part 3

This series presents a different essay by a different writer on the first Friday of the month. Each one starts from the premise "The Future of the Movies." The writer is free to expound on that title in whatever way they choose. It could be streaming, theatrical, AI, tech, representation, or anything else that comes to mind. And we expect the conversation to change month to month. We just want to make sure we're having it. Come back every month for upcoming essays by Robert Daniels, Brian Tallerico, Isaac Feldberg, and many more. And read the last essay here.

When I think of “the future of the movies,” I think less about the films themselves being made — as ever, a mixture of breezy corporate fare peppered with some insightful films from new, interesting voices that often slip under the radar — than about the way we watch, and talk about, them.

In my initial reckonings with this question, my mind initially turned to my ire at those who treat the movie theater like their own living room. The phone-scrollers, the loud-talkers. The incurious. The jaded. The TikTokers. The sludge of social media that indicates that more and more people would rather just check out and scroll than engage with the art form I love so much.

But that’s a bit snooty, really. After all, rolling our eyes at the youths is the inevitable fate of all of us who are more than a few years out from college, those who have a different relationship with the medium we’ve chosen to love than we do. Wagging our fists at them like we’re Grampa Simpson isn’t going to get little Braylyn to watch "Au hasard balthasar," no matter how much she says she loves the donkey in "Shrek."

For all the hemming and hawing about how kids these days don’t engage with movies anymore, I choose to give myself reasons to hope. Last year saw the comparative rejection of formulaic superhero movies for films like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” The tail end of the year had “Godzilla Minus One” and “The Boy and the Heron” topping the box-office charts — those who are going out to movies, at least, seem to be gravitating towards stuff that doesn’t feel factory-stamped like they used to. (Granted, recent evidence from “The Fall Guy” and “Furiosa” has put more than a little ice water on that hope, but it springs eternal nonetheless.)

Rather than pray that those numbers aren’t just a fluke brought on by an unusually thin blockbuster year, I’d rather take the momentum and run with it. The world today is one cloaked in climate change, genocide, and stochastic violence and is hostile to curiosity. If you see a spark of it emerge in such harsh climes, it’s your duty to blow on the ember. 

That’s a challenge I give other film critics, too; for as much as our cultural capital as tastemakers has rapidly declined in recent years thanks to the democratization of social media and the erosion of pop culture journalism, it’s also on us to meet general audiences — our audiences, I might add — where they are. We snipe so often at the average Joe, it’s easy to forget they don’t have the same relationship with movies as we do. (Hell, we spend so much time sniping at each other that we forget that we’re not meant to be the only audience for the work we do.)

That doesn’t mean throwing our hands up and acquiescing our taste; it just means finding the right ways to bring non-movie folks back into the conversation without making them feel intimidated or dumb or too exhausted to wade through the grad-school prose some of us tend to throw at them. And for those who are dipping their toes into the deep waters of cinema in the ways social media encourages, maybe the best way to approach a wrongheaded take from a TikTok teen isn’t to wag our finger, but meet them where they’re at.

Social media platforms like Letterboxd, derided as they are for incentivizing people to treat movies like a numbers game or a quest to find the pithiest one-liner, still feel like the last bastion for new generations of cinephiles to develop their love for the art form. It thrills me that Zoomers and gen-alpha folks are still trying to wrap their heads around Tarkovsky or even just finding new ways to express what they like/dislike about more populist fare they do see. Sure, it’s taking the form of fancams or whatever, but who cares? I’d rather they engage with some of it in a weird way than none of it whatsoever.

Call me optimistic or naive. But I have to believe that film is still a vibrant, vivid art form that, with the right framing and appropriate encouragement, even non-obsessives can sit down, pay attention to, and enjoy. 2023 set the stage with revolutionary resolutions to long labor strikes and a marked change in audience taste. Let’s double down on that, expand the tent, and invite them in. Films are going to grow ever more niche as a form of popular entertainment; that’s basically inevitable at this point. But it doesn’t have to die, as long as we cultivate the passion of those who have learned to love them, and those who have yet to start. 

Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Staff Writer for Consequence. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and Critics Choice Association. You can also find his byline at, Vulture, The Companion, FOX Digital, and elsewhere. 

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