When Netflix said last month that it was ending its DVD subscription service after a 25-year run due to a shrinking customer base, many people shrugged. Some even asked, “That still exists?”
But for its many faithful adherents, the announcement was a dismal, if expected, moment.
“Grieving,” wrote Charlie Denison, 39, on Twitter, where many other subscribers — yes, they use social media! — gathered for a collective wail. Some used the “GetThroughMyQueue” hashtag, sharing titles from the long list they’ve queued up through the service’s app (yes, app!).
“The most upsetting thing about it for me is I have 500 movies in my queue and I have for a long time,” says Denison, a Colorado newspaper editor and film blogger who loves Coen brothers movies and became an official Netflix DVD reviewer (in exchange for swag and DVDs) during the pandemic. “My wife thinks I’m a big nerd for it,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment, “but a lot of those movies aren’t going to be available anymore. That’s the disappointing thing.”
“I’m pretty bummed and pretty sad, but I also thought it was inevitable,” Jay Boucher, a 52-year-old New Jersey web designer, tells Yahoo Entertainment. A self-described “movie buff,” he’s stuck with the DVD service because it has so many films that can’t be found elsewhere — he’s drawn to horror, indie and classics, like 1933's Babyface and 2022's creepy-doll film M3GAN — and is now working his way through the entire Star Wars franchise with his daughter, something he could only otherwise do on Disney+, which he doesn’t have.
“I’ve been noticing more and more movies will get moved from queue into ‘saved,’ which means there’s no DVD available,” he adds. “I have a feeling they’re breaking or getting stolen … the writing was kind of on the wall.”
The end of the subscription service, which officially happens in September, has prompted various Reddit threads plus some prominent eulogies, including in the New York Times Op-Ed section, where Pamela Paul wrote that the announcement hit her “with a jolt of dread and dismay,” as her devotion is “not about Luddite resistance or stubborn nostalgia,” but about having “better choices” through “human curation as opposed to the algorithm.”
Look what popped into my mail on May the 4th from @dvdnetflix . My daughter and I are at #4 in our Star Wars marathon and have summer to finish before she’s off to college and https://t.co/ygrHWGpBkY shuts down. A thread of my thoughts on closing of Netflix’s delivery service: pic.twitter.com/WJ7n6nwd65
— Jay Boucher (@HobokenPudding) May 4, 2023
Thomas Doherty echoed that in the Hollywood Reporter, and it’s a point being made by many subscribers.
"These streaming services can delete shows off of their servers whenever they want, but a disc is forever," says Michael Natale, 32, a New York-based writer and film podcaster whose latest red-envelope arrival is Robert Altman's 1979 post-apocalyptic Quintet. "In a sense, losing DVD Netflix is even more of a loss than when Blockbuster shut down … Because with this robust physical library gone, we lose one of the last vestiges of accessible, rentable physical media."
That, explains Meaghan Walsh Gerard of Savannah, Ga. who also blogs for Netflix and has over 200 movies in her current queue, is due to rights holders "constantly buying back catalogs" who are "more and more gatekeeping what they put out on their various platforms." The 42-year-old, whose day job is communications director for a river conservation organization, fears that the loss of physical media chips away at "equitable access."
Walsh Gerard, who got her master's degree in cinema studies after a childhood spent watching classic films (especially Hitchcock, like Rear Window and Vertigo, and the 1954 musical White Christmas) has upped her DVD take-out allowance to eight at a time in order to get through her queue. Currently at the top of the list is the 1956 Ingmar Bergman film The Magician, part of a vast library from the Criterion Collection that offers classics on DVD packaged with essays and other extras that Walsh Gerard frequently orders from Netflix. "I'm a nerd," she says.
“It really is the only place where you can immediately get those incredibly hard-to-find movies that you don’t necessarily want to buy but still want to see,” actor Jon Lindstrom, 65, tells Yahoo Entertainment. When Netflix made its announcement, the longtime General Hospital star took to Facebook to post a photo of himself seemingly screaming, with the caption, “Me, upon learning Netflix is ending their DVD service. ‘Why God? Why?!’ Sad news.”
"Right now I have a copy of Zabriskie Point on my coffee table," he says, referring to the 1970 Michael Antonioni drama about a couple of '60s free spirits who get intimate in the dusty terrain of Death Valley. "I’ve never seen it, no one else has it." But Lindstrom has a "side hustle" of narrating audio books and had just done so for True West, Robert Greenfield's new Sam Shepard biography, which taught him that Shepard had co-written the Zabriskie Point screenplay. "I heard it’s a beautiful mess, but I wanted to find out for myself," he says, noting that other obscure titles in his queue include the 2004 documentary/indie hybrid cult hit What the Bleep Do We Know? and 2004's documentary In the Realms of the Unreal, about artist-janitor-novelist Henry Darger.
"The greater meaning here is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. It’s why the WGA [Writers Guild of America] went on strike last night, it’s the changing landscape of everything," he says. "To me, it’s not only the end of how things are done … It means that an entire swath of creative work will really disappear from public consciousness, much the same way as silent films have, much the way that early foreign films that made their way over here will. I doubt, for example, there’s a lot of film students today who have even seen the Battleship Potempkin," the 1925 Soviet silent war drama, regarded as one of the most important films in the history of silent pictures. "But you can get it on DVD.com."
James David Patrick, another Netflix DVD blogger and freelance writer who also hosts the Cinema Shame podcast and has 182 films in his queue (not to mention over 3,000 DVDs in his personal collection), is also lamenting the loss of options. "Once we lose control and return it to the studios, we’ve lost a control we’ve had since VHS came around," he tells Yahoo Entertainment. Among the hard-to-find films he'll soon be watching: Butterfield 8, the 1960 Daniel Mann drama starring Elizabeth Taylor, and the 1954 British comedy Genevieve.
But, Patrick adds, "The best ones were the ones that people didn’t rent, the super-sleepers … that don’t get lost or broken."
Still other reasons for sticking with the DVD service range from extra content to the satisfaction of the queue itself. "I’ve watched so many movies twice, the second time with director’s commentary," says Boucher, who appreciates bonus content. "The Godfather had commentary with Francis Ford Coppola… and while some streaming services might have that, like Criterion, most of the regular streamers have the movie and that’s it."
Eric Althoff, a 44-year-old freelance writer and editor living in Virginia, appreciates the organizational quality. "Firstly, with my OCD, I really liked having the queue as a visual aid of what movies/shows I still had coming up," he shares. "For whatever reason, the visual queue really, really worked and hit all of my happy places — ditto the list of what I had already watched." And secondly, he tells Yahoo Entertainment, "there's definitely a perhaps foolishly romantic element of still getting physical media sent in the mail. I get so much junk mail that seeing that little red envelope roll up in the post always gave me a little hit of dopamine."
"That’s one of the bummers," echoes Denison. "It’s nice to have something come in the mail that you look forward to, which is not really common anymore."