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Leonard Maltin on Why He's Retiring His Beloved Annual Movie Guides

Kevin Polowy
Senior Editor
August 19, 2014

It’s the end of an era for film buffs: Leonard Maltin, the critic whose movie guides have been a cineaste staple for more than forty years, has announced that the Leonard Maltin’s 2015 Movie Guide (to be released next month) will be his last. The news first appeared on a blog post Monday by film writer Joe Leydon, and was confirmed by Maltin to Yahoo Movies this morning.

Leydon quoted Maltin’s explanation from his advance copy of the guide, which will be available Sept. 2: “With ready access to information on the Internet, our readership has diminished at an alarming rate… The book’s loyal followers know that we strive to offer something one can’t easily find online: curated information that is accurate and user-friendly, along with our own reviews and ratings… But when a growing number of people believe that everything should be free, it’s impossible to support a reference book that requires a staff of contributors and editors.”

As Maltin told us, the reasoning behind his decision was disappointing, but simple: “It was no longer economically feasible to do it. That sounds very cold-blooded, but it couldn’t sustain itself financially. That says it all, really.” The film critic and historian, who said the series was compiled by a staff of 12 contributors and editors, added that the movie guide was “running at a bit of a loss for the past few years, but I didn’t want to give it up… I’ve been doing this my entire adult life, and that’s literal, not figurative.”

Maltin, 63, launched his capsule movie review guide in 1969 as TV Movies; it’s changed names over the decades, ultimately becoming Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, and became an annual release in 1986. This year’s installment — the 35th overall — is a 1,600-page opus featuring nearly 16,000 reviews. Maltin said he writes roughly half of the reviews, though he also edits the book, and joked, “If you like the review, I wrote it, and if you don’t like the review, it’s not mine.”

Maltin has no plans to follow in the footsteps of his late colleague Roger Ebert, who made all of his reviews available on his official site, noting that the short-form content doesn’t translate well to the digital space. “The difference is that Roger Ebert wrote full-length essays. These are capsules,” he said. “And I think they live best in the medium for which they were intended. There has always been a problem with conceptualizing this as an online entity by itself. 

The announcement is the second blow of 2014 for fans of Maltin. Earlier this year, the mobile version of the guide, which had been released in app form in 2009, was taken down after its publisher, Penguin, couldn’t come to terms with the app’s creator. (This especially struck a chord with listeners of comedian Doug Benson’s popular Doug Loves Movies podcast, which had fashioned an entire game out of the app, where contestants must guess the movie and list the cast based on star ratings and Maltin quotes.)

Those fans should take some solace in knowing this is hardly the last we’ll hear from Maltin. He was happy to report to us that a third edition of the Classic Movie Guide — which is limited to titles released up to 1960 — was just green-lit, and will be available in 2015. “That book is near and dear to me, and is aimed at an audience that still uses books, which tends to be people who watch old movies,” he says. Maltin’s also working on a couple of other book ideas, and plans to make some of his out-of-print releases available on the Kindle.

And though Maltin’s disappointment is clear, so is his appreciation for the amount of support he’s received over the years, from both his publisher, Penguin, who he’s been with 45 years through its various incarnations, and of course his readers: “The most rewarding thing is that people stop me all the time and say they grew up on the books. They had it in their home, or their parents used it and they passed it onto them. People tell me they used to read it. People would check off the ones they’d seen or write little notations in the margins. The book seems to have insinuated itself into a lot of peoples lives… It’s always nice to know that somebody appreciated what we were doing.”

Photo: Reuters