Netflix, Amazon Prime and now Disney+, these are only a few examples of the countless streaming platforms that have changed the way in which audiences now watch films. With the touch of a button thousands of titles, new and old, are waiting to be discovered. However, whilst browsing through this plethora of choices certainly sounds like any cinephile’s idea of heaven, for a particular group of film fans nothing beats browsing your very own, physical collection of home media. Actually being able to hold the boxes, study the display cases and take in your collection as a whole has an unrivalled appeal in the digital versus physical media debate.
The argument for a physical collection has potentially become somewhat stronger with recent circumstances considered. As a result of the high levels of self-isolated individuals, internet service providers are struggling to cope with the increased amount of streaming. In order to help ease this pressure, Netflix are reducing the picture quality of their content across Europe. Suddenly a shelf full of Blu-rays sounds much more appealing than a library of online films with reduced picture quality.
In addition to this, it’s been reported that Amazon has halted pre-orders on new home media releases, a tough pill to swallow for many avid collectors eagerly awaiting their favourite titles to land on shelves. To say we’re living in an uncertain time would be an understatement and with new release dates seemingly not promised it’s now more than ever that film fans can really be thankful for their own, physical collections they’ve built over the past months and years. With so much to enjoy in owning, collecting and consistently adding to such a collection it begs the question, what is the best way to arrange and display it?
The obvious option would be to arrange titles alphabetically. This is a tried and tested method and one that is usually seen implemented in high street media shops such as HMV and CeX. Its merits include the ease of locating any particular title and an aesthetically pleasing look. There are some necessary ground rules that need to be adhered to if order is to be maintained though. To quote David Fincher’s The Social Network, “Drop the The. Just Facebook. It’s cleaner.” Without such a rule in place, physical media collections would almost entirely be made up of “T” films…
Whilst alphabetical order seems to be the most straightforward option, any collector that uses this system will be well aware of the countless exceptions and frustrations it brings with it too. For starters, there are sequels and prequels to consider. Let’s start at the beginning; the Alien franchise is currently made up of eight films, with all eight titles conveniently starting with “A”, oh wait except for Prometheus. This leaves collectors with a few choices, count all films within this franchise under “A” as it is the Alien franchise and deal with the fact that there’s going to be a “P” film right in the middle of their “A” section. Isolate Prometheus, alienating it from the family of films it belongs to but keeping it in the right section in terms of the alphabetical system. Or, view both Prometheus and Alien Covenant as a reboot to the classic franchise, classing them both under “P”, keeping them separate from the original films. No one way is completely satisfying, and anomalies like this come up more often than would be expected.
Some franchises aren’t even as co-operative as to only have one film with a different starting letter; some don’t have any the same! See the most recent reboot trilogy of The Planet of the Apes for an example. With each title starting with a completely different word; Rise, Dawn and War, this complicates their categorisation. Of course, these could be placed simply within their alphabetical order but being direct sequels to each other this feels odd to separate them. Collectors will most likely have to place them under “A” for Apes or “P” for Planet, the only constants within the film titles.
What about films that are more loosely linked? Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy comes to mind. Consisting of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, should these be grouped together? The more relaxed connection between the films would suggest it’s not as frustrating to have these titles filed on their own. However, a more unique trilogy that is trickier to decide upon is M. Night Shyamalan’s secret movie series that began with Unbreakable, was revealed with Split and concluded with Glass. Unbreakable and Split work as standalone films but Glass needs the other two to make sense, so where these sit on any collectors shelves is a bit of a mystery. No doubt each of The Horde’s twenty-three different personalities would have their own opinion on the matter, but perhaps it’s best to go with whatever Patricia says though.
In an era of cinematic universes, complications also arise when trying to alphabetically categorise films that exist within a continuum of interconnected stories. Should all films be placed under “M” for Marvel Cinematic Universe? If so, are the titles arranged alphabetically or in release order? Alternatively, and probably most preferably each group of films within this cinematic universe can be arranged separately, in that all of the Captain America films should be filed under “C” and all Iron Man films under “I” and so forth. It’s big franchise collections like these that create the most problematic decisions for collectors.
There is also the issue of unique spine collections. Film collectors will come across a conundrum when they purchase their first Curzon Artificial Eye home media release. Upon placing it in its rightful place, for whatever system said collector follows they will then be met with the agonising realisation that Curzon spines are printed in reverse to the normal format. To the more particular collectors this will upset the appearance of their collection to no end, maybe even driving some to create an exclusively Curzon only section, so that some order can be restored to these frustrating exceptions to the accepted norms.
This leads on nicely to the inclusion of Blu-rays, 4K’s and Steelbooks, should these be simply mixed in where their title implies they should be or should they have their own sections? Of course, these styles of release vary in shape and sizes and can create an uneven effect to the displays of collections. The way in which these are worked in will entirely depend on the individual but a question that requires some thought as to how to best integrate them into any given collection.
Ok, so alphabetical order is maybe too structured for some film fans, so what other options are there? Another system sometimes implemented in high street stores and one that is replicated by some film fans is ordering films by genre. This is the method most used by streaming services too, and it makes sense. Know you’re in the mood for a romantic-comedy, perfect, you know exactly where to find them and you know what your options are. The trouble comes when a film maybe covers more than one genre. Where does any given Star Wars film find itself under this system? Sci-fi, adventure or family? There are arguments for each but this is only one example of what would be a constant struggle to categorise new films, and easily the biggest downfall of this system.
For those with more specialist collections, there’s the option of arranging titles by the director or even actor. This approach is slightly redundant unless your collection features a large range of titles by any given artist. This might work better as a temporary measure if you’re working through a particular director’s filmography as unless your collection is made up of only large collections by different directors or actors it might feel somewhat strange having sections made up of only one or two titles by said directors or actors. This method also requires an encyclopaedic style memory for who directed which film, so if you relate at all to Dory from the Finding Nemo series maybe just keep swimming on to a different method as this won’t be for you.
Maybe the most chaotic suggestion of all though is to have no system whatsoever. This will sound ludicrous to many and prove nightmarish when trying to locate a specific title, especially in large collections. However, with all things considered it’s certainly the approach that is the most time effective and requires the least effort. Gone is the time spent shuffling a whole collection down a bookshelf or display unit. This time instead can be used to actually watch the films themselves. Although, as rational as all this sounds to many collectors and film fans the thought of no system at all screams absolute anarchy, and that’s because without a doubt it absolutely is.
However, ultimately each individual needs to decide what system works best for them. No system is full proof but if you think you’ve found one please let us know! Although as long as you can locate Point Break and Bad Boys II as quickly as PC Danny Butterman can you’re doing alright.