In an attempt to watch the 1984 Matt Dillon comedy The Flamingo Kid, screenwriter John August learned just how difficult it is to find certain movies that aren’t streaming online, a process he documented in an August 6 tweet thread. A handful of Twitter users responded to commiserate. Three days later, August sent a follow up tweet: “I'm curious how many other movies aren't available online. So I'm starting a list. You can add to it.”
The result was a list of over 300 user-submitted titles that people (and the requisite trolls) suggested could not be streamed online. Inspired by August’s idea, film data analyst Stephen Follows compiled a spreadsheet of the top 200 highest-grossing films from the past 20 years. With the resulting data, Follows analyzed the availability of the 4,000 titles and found that almost half are currently available on online streaming platforms, while the majority are at least available to digitally buy or rent.
Follows’ analysis of the data across box office gross, platforms, and release is illuminating, and I encourage you to check it out. Equally fascinating, however, is the list of films that make up that small sliver of completely digitally unavailable titles. Standouts include the 1999 animated film The King and I, 2001’s Spirited Away, 2006’s Apocalypto, 2008’s Ponyo. Many of the films included are available in physical copies, while a couple others currently on the quickly outdating list actually are available to stream online, likely because of a change in perceived demand.
“This is a good example of how making the dataset public can help stress-test the results,” Follows wrote to The Outline in an email. “Everyone can see the top-line data and see if it matches with their experiences and access.” Follows said that he is working on updating the list and double-checking the original crowdsourced submissions to August’s original request, though he has no plans to constantly update it with the films’ ever changing statuses. Amazon is secretive about how it decides to price items, but prices and stock fluctuate constantly based on how many people are searching for a particular item. Similarly, streaming platforms decide what content they will license when based on user data of what’s in demand and what will get the most views relative to the licensing cost, which is why the offerings on sites like Netflix are constantly changing.
Because of the constantly changing inventories of various platforms, Follows noted that in a few days, he will stop updating the list, leaving it as a point in time reference of what films were not available in mid-August 2018. The exercise is a Sisyphean task for any one person to take on, but Follows’ analysis sheds more light on just how much platforms control what we’re able to access. Next time all of your friends are suddenly obsessed with the same movie, know that there was likely more than just random interest behind their viewing choices.