Features and Columns · Movies

How the Criterion Collection Defies the Decline of Physical Media

Is the Criterion Collection a cult? If you’re selling physical media these days, you kind of have to be.
Criterion Collection
Criterion
By  · Published on January 4th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the cult-like appeal of the Criterion Collection.


These days, if you want something, odds are you’ll be able to buy it online. And in a landscape defined by convenience and choice, many retailers have placed their focus on branding. If you buy a nice tea kettle you obviously want it to work, but who made that kettle and what they stand for might have had an impact on how you ultimately spend your money.

A lifetime ago, I wrote a piece about why movie theaters are going to survive the rise of streaming. I didn’t factor in the ongoing global pandemic (how could I?). But I think the core argument I made is relevant here, so I’m going to rehash it.

Basically (as You’ve Got Mail tells us), when big-box bookstores arrived on the scene, everyone confidently declared that smaller retailers weren’t going to make it. Then, in a delicious twist, Amazon showed up and took over what those big bookstores were really selling: convenience. And, really, independent bookstores weren’t just selling books either. They were selling an experience. And the experience they were sellingof going into your local indie bookstore to buy a physical bookisn’t something you can find on the internet.

The Criterion Collection operates, survives, and thrives for exactly this reason. Yeah, sure, you could find a DVD of Godzilla on Amazon. But buying a Criterion spine isn’t just about buying a film. It’s about all the peripheral things that define Criterion as a brand: the prestige, the ephemera, the box art, the sense of belonging to an (admittedly cult-like) community.

As the video essay below explains, the energy around Criterion is obsessive, loyal, and yes, still consumerism. But it’s also a prime example of why the narrative of physical media’s decline doesn’t quite work.

Watch “The Cult of the Criterion Collection”:

Who made this?

This video essay is by the Texas-based Royal Ocean Film Society, which is run by Andrew Saladino. You can browse their back catalog of videos on their Vimeo account here. If Vimeo isn’t your speed, you can give them a follow on YouTube here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).