On September 29, 2023, Netflix shipped out its final DVDs in the mail. As of now, you can no longer rent physical DVDs via Netflix. What once was a wonderful resource for movie lovers — and arguably the best time for renting movies ever — is over. But what’s left? The short answer is streaming movies, which, either way, that you slice it, means that people actually have fewer choices than they did when Netflix began. This fact has a huge impact on family movie night, a wonderful tradition enjoyed by at least a few generations of children, which now, will simply not include physical, analog rentals for the foreseeable future. Unless families want to buy the Blu-ray or DVD of a beloved film, the previously affordable rental option is a thing of the past.
According to Slate, “Estimates suggest that Netflix now offers fewer than 4,000 movies at a given time, less than 5 percent of the vast universe it once provided.” So, that means just in terms of massive movie numbers, you’re looking at minus 95 percent choices of different films. Now, in order for a movie to be watched with a Netflix subscription, it has to be on streaming. And that means, said film has to adhere to the complicated spiderweb of streaming licensing rules and regulations. In the past, Netflix operated like a remote movie rental store, like Blockbuster, or Hollywood Video, but in alliance with the Post Office. Now, Netflix is just one more streaming platform, which makes it more like a bloated cable channel of the ‘90s, which was the exact thing that made us all love Netflix in the first place.
Several great critics have waxed nostalgic about the red envelopes, and the simplicity and specialness of getting DVDs in the mail. But, if you don’t care about physical media, and you’re over the aesthetic argument, the numbers here simply do not lie. Thanks to the technological “progress” of streaming services, Netflix is now much more expensive than it was even 10 years ago, and there are now only a fraction of the choices available.
In fact, when it comes to older movies, it’s now possible that Netflix has even fewer options than local video stores had back in the early 1990s. Instead, the so-called “convenience” of streaming has led countless families to get rid of our Blu-ray and DVD players, mostly because we thought we were done hassling with that extra cord. The mailing out of the final Netflix DVDs isn’t just a gee-wiz moment of Gen-X or elder Millennial rose-colored glasses. It’s a legitimate sign that how we consume media as people, and as families is not better than how it was a short time ago. Streaming services are expensive and getting more expensive. Purchasing films digitally doesn’t always guarantee you really own those films, to say nothing about the trend of constantly disappearing children’s shows from streaming media.
To be clear, Netflix is still a giant, and all sorts of people will flock to Netflix for the best new shows, original movies, and yes, a decent and robust library of family and children’s programming, too. But this isn’t the infinite library it once was. The true freedom of choice has been widdled down while nobody was really paying attention, and now, the new status quo for family movie night lacks the eclectic potential of the past. And right now, if you care about hard-to-find movies, or cool weird versions of kids’ TV series from the past, your best bet is to jump on eBay and start buying some DVDs.