Sadly, for the collectors amongst us, physical media is in steep decline. With the rise of streaming services and on-demand viewing over the past decade replacing the need for a physical purchase for many consumers, studios and distributors are cutting corners and making their home media output as cost-effective (read: cheap) as possible. As some titles skip physical release completely, others are being limited to lower quality formats only.
But a concerning trend has recently emerged pertaining to which films are worthy of a higher quality UK home media release: female-centered, -directed and -skewing titles are almost always neglected to barebones, basic DVD releases, a far cry from the flashy, substantial editions their male counterparts receive. For all the talk of improving gender equality across the industry, it is certainly not reflected in the home media landscape.
Let’s break it down.
Painting with the broadest strokes, you can typically identify a piece of art’s primary audience through a combination of things, including the film’s genre, its subject matter, and the gender of the lead artists, both in front of and behind the camera. Films aimed at majority female audiences are much more likely to feature a romantic element over an action beat, characteristically centred around more personal stories of overcoming adversary than saving the world in a blaze of glory, and also revolving around female characters, friendships and relationships.
There are, of course, exceptions to this; it is an incredibly binary, black-and-white way of examining things in a very grey world. More pictures nowadays aim for four-quadrant, blockbusting viewing and there are plenty of female-identifying people who would prefer an action-thriller over a rom-com any day of the week, and more who are open to any and every genre and topic. But this is how most Hollywood executives with the power to write a cheque view things when financing, so it is something we will also employ in our discussion.
As mentioned, distributors are scaling back their home media footprint, with the market (particularly when it comes to Blu-ray and 4K releases) withering. More supermarkets are either shrinking or removing shelf space for film entertainment and, if you want choice, you are either restricted to specialist stores like HMV or online retailers for your physical media needs. As such, the number of films being made available on multiple formats is shrinking, and the female-orientated titles are being disproportionately impacted.
Looking solely at films released on home media in 2019 and 2020, biopics focusing on women including Can You Ever Forgive Me?, On The Basis of Sex and, most recently, Misbehaviour were only made available on DVD, while female-fronted comedies such as Booksmart, Late Night, Little, and The Hustle were likewise denied a UK Blu-ray release.
Greta, The Kitchen, The Goldfinch, and The Assistant are further examples demonstrating that this is a cross-genre, cross-studio trend. To make matters worse, a handful of these titles have been made available on Blu-ray in other international territories but not on UK shores. It’s not that they don’t have the resources to release them – they have chosen not to.
Of the titles that were released digitally during the national lockdown and are now making their way to home media, Universal’s female-directed, female-driven musical-comedy The High Note has only been released on DVD; the same studio’s male-directed, whereas male-starring comedy The King of Staten Island is receiving both a DVD and a Blu-ray release.
Post-lockdown cinema premieres Summerland and Radioactive were only distributed on DVD, while The Broken Hearts Gallery only has a DVD release scheduled. There are currently no listings for a physical copy for After We Collided at all, despite the YA adaptation impressively becoming the second-highest-grossing UK title since cinemas began to reopen in July. All of these films attracted female audiences primarily and placed women front and centre. Additionally, three of the four were made by women filmmakers.
All of this begs the same question: why? Of course, money drives the answer. If a film didn’t show great results during its theatrical run, and particularly if it wasn’t popular enough with those who saw it to either recommend to friends or wish to revisit it down the line from the comfort of their own home, it’s not going to be worth the effort of an extensive release. But the majority of the aforementioned films registered a positive reception, many earning award nominations indicating quality, and almost all of them turned a tidy profit in their box office run.
Perhaps the most head-scratching case is that of Sony Pictures’ handling of Little Women. The Greta Gerwig-directed, Academy Award-winning adaptation was Sony’s third-highest-grossing title of 2019. It earned over $28 million and was still charting in the top 30 at the UK box office when cinemas closed in March.
Yet, despite sitting behind only franchise entities Spider-Man: Far From Home and Jumanji: The Next Level in the studio’s yearly ranking, and well ahead of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, Men In Black: International and the Zombieland sequel, Little Women’s home media release was comparatively barebones.
Consisting of just a DVD and Blu-Ray, despite the lower-grossing, male-skewing titles receiving not only a 4K release but a collectors-favorite steelbook edition too (with Tarantino’s Hollywood recently announced to be receiving its second issuing in this shiny format less than a year after its home media debut), the effort that went in to Little Women’s home media was, quite frankly, minimal. Even Sony’s critically-panned 2020 slate – The Grudge and Bloodshot – had the luxury of the highest quality steelbook packaging, while Gerwig’s literary adaption, which relies on visual cues for its storytelling and would benefit greatly from a higher definition release, did not.
Is there any logic at all to this? Research does indicate that collecting is an overwhelming male pastime, with psychologists Dr. Christian Jarrett and Simon Baron-Cohen each independently theorising that the XY chromosomes are more prone to excessively acquiring, potentially as a result of evolutionary development and those with the personality type of ‘systemisers’, a typically masculine trait associated with organizing and collecting.
So, while it does make sense for studios to tap into this market and capitalise on the extra cash that comes with fancier editions funded mostly by the male collector, it still doesn’t justify the almost uniform dismissal of female-central content. Did more people really want to own a flop horror remake than a film widely considered one of 2019’s best? Men can like Little Women too!
No studio or distributor returned my email for comment regarding this trend. I’m sure they have more concerning things to deal with. But even with the caveat that men are more likely to obsessively collect, spending more money on a higher quality product, it doesn’t come close to justifying why films made with (more than) half of the world’s population in mind are so willingly overlooked, and speaks uncomfortably loud about how much Hollywood values the male pound above all else.
While we understand the need to save money to protect physical media at large, it should not be at the expense of films deemed ‘lesser’ because of their target audience.