Question: which films are not as good on the small screen?

 

big screen

 

I should preface by saying I didn’t go to the cinema very often until the mid 90s, and I haven’t rewatched these films recently, which the list reflects. Also worth mentioning, the post was inspired by another blogger who wrote about watching Gravity on TV: The gravity of the situation.

 

 

 

Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day (1996)
I had a great time with this blockbuster back when I was a teenager, it’s funny and visually the spaceships and explosions look epic. The friend I saw it with agreed with me and I even bought the poster. Once released on video my friend rushed out to buy it. He told me about the rewatch and I could see the excitement on his face wasn’t there, the movie lacked epicness at home. I rewatched it too and the result was the same.

 

 

 

 

gravity 2013.jpg
Gravity (2013)
Rarely have I seen a film that captured space so beautifully and the spectacle was enough initially.  Similar to Avatar (below), once the film is stripped of the 3D and reduced to the small screen, the story and characters become more important, and neither are at the level of the special effects.

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar (2009).jpg
Avatar (2009)

Probably a popular choice in this category. The thrill of Avatar was seeing a 3D film for the first time. Immersed in the world of Pandora, with its creatures, landscapes, and most memorably the floating woodsprites which hang in the air among the audience in the cinema. The story isn’t great, and when rewatched on TV there isn’t the same wow feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sixth Sense (1999).jpg
The Sixth Sense (1999)

Keeps you on the edge of your seat, a great mystery. Some viewers may claim it’s easily solved during the first watch. But the excitement of the story unfolding was a cinema-going event which can’t be replicated. The second viewing on home release was a lot less intense, but not a total waste, where you are essentially aware of the twist and the predicaments of the characters are more clearly defined. Still, the twist is what most remember and once that secret is revealed, the film looses some of its impact.

 

 

 

 

 

Gladiator (2000)
Gladiator (2000)

Ancient Rome is presented on a grand scale and I believed I was right there. By no means a bad movie on TV, but I couldn’t help feeling a little let down. For me, definitely one of those films that is most entertaining the first time around.

 

 

 

 

What do you think? Which films impressed you at the cinema and then underwhelmed you on the small screen?

34 thoughts on “Question: which films are not as good on the small screen?

  1. I love the experience of watching films at the cinema. A real family event too. Especially all the big budget Marvel etc films. Certain films just have to be seen in the cinema, Gravity is a prime example as you point out, so too was Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049 and Dredd. There really isn’t anyway you will have that same buzz and immersive feeling that you got from being at the cinema. With those examples I had to return the next day to experience that feeling again, you were there.
    Though it does depend on the size of your telly, speaker system because you can still get to have a fantastic viewing experience at home and some films, like indie films etc don’t warrant the big screen feeling imho. You know someone talking, crunching crisp packs etc is going to drive you mad. At least the big action films drown that out.
    My speakers are wired up to my sound system so the above mentioned films still worked for me watching back at home but I haven’t returned to Gravity as I don’t think it would work.
    Great thoughts Chris.
    Mike

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @wolfman: I agree Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 need a big screen, from what I’ve read both were designed as a cinematic experience. Good point big action films can drown out popcorn munching and crisp packets.
      Though I do find it easier to relax with a film at home (and you have the luxury of pausing)
      Maybe I need to invest in a bigger TV 😉

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  2. There are many films that just don’t transfer over the same. But others I have watched a bazillion times on TV say like The Godfather or something like that. Because I wasn’t old enough when it was out in a cinema! hahahaha so some movies we have no choice..but for the most part, I will always do theater first if I can. 🙂

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    1. @peggyatthemovies: Yep, sometimes we have no choice and have to settle for TV such as The Godfather. Occasionally classics receive re-releases. I might be able to go to a screening of Lawrence of Arabia during the summer which would be a dream come true

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  3. I think it’s true that films when they’re shown on TV don’t have the same impact in comparison to seeing it on the big screen. Believe me, we film buffs would love to have our own big screen. It’s true that you’ll lose certain visual touches as I will say that Avatar is a better film watching it on the big screen than on TV though you lose sight on the film’s flaws in the plot. I still haven’t re-watched The Hateful Eight as I know it’s on TV but it’s a completely different version than the 70mm version that I saw in the theater a few years ago.

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  4. I love going to the cinema and it’s a totally different experience from watching things on the small screen – If you’re lucky there are no distractions and you can immerse yourself in the movie. Independence Day has to be watched on the big screen – I remember we went when it first came out and the really quite large cinema reverberated when the “ships came in”. When I went to see Shape of Water recently on my own, I got a seat in front of the other cinema-goers and it felt as if I had the whole place to myself – Going to try that again soon!

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    1. @Alyson: I might be remembering Independence Day with rose-tinted glasses but surely it was one of the defining blockbusters of the mid 90s and the summer of 1996. Glad you got to see it on a big screen as well as it really isn’t the same on TV.

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  5. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed movies in the cinemas and in my own home… unless the movies rely heavily on the watcher being overawed by the visual elements (hello, Avatar and Prometheus – though in fairness, although I appreciated that they looked pretty incredible, I didn’t much enjoy either of them in the cinema, either). I thoroughly enjoyed Pacific Rim both in the cinema and at home… same with the Marvel films. They may not look quite the same, but I don’t know that I’d say they’re not as good.

    Perhaps another question would be: which films don’t hold up to repeated viewings?

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    1. @J: Avatar isn’t as beloved as James Cameron’s earlier films, so makes sense you were among those who didn’t much enjoy it.
      I gave up half way through The Avengers (2012), same with Iron Man. Marvel superhero movies are just not for me. Many love them though.
      Which films don’t hold up to repeated viewings is a good question too, a few of my picks would overlap that category for sure.

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  6. I think if the film relies much on the twist to the point that it impoverishes repeated viewing than it is not much of a movie to begin with, it’s simply a gimmick. But I remember it was fun noticing the clues to the twist upon rewatches of Sixth Sense so it doesn’t fall in this category

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    1. @Sati: I saw The Sixth Sense twice in 1999-2000. It was weaker on rewatch though the boy’s performance is excellent. I haven’t been tempted to go back to the film a third time after the “less intense” second viewing. Certainly very different when you know the twist. I might be underselling the film as you seem to think it holds up.

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  7. I’d say “Dunkirk”. While it’s still a very good film, it just feels different when the fantastic sounddesign isn’t coming from IMAX quality speakers. Experiencing it in IMAX is something totally different than experiencing it on a laptop.

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    1. @Film4fan: Dunkirk is a good choice and I agree the sound design and Zimmer’s score soared (even without IMAX for my screening). I haven’t plans to watch it on TV

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  8. I completely agree re Avatar. I was practically shaking with excitement when I came to watch it in 3D (IMAX) at cinema for the first time, and huge deal for me was that it was on such big screen and in 3D. For me, any film with the intention of being in 3D (be it A Christmas Carol or The Great Gatsby, etc) will be underwhelming not in cinema. I also think the films of Terrence Malick are great to be watched on big screen because there is a certain peculiar emphasis on the visuals and he has his own style in that respect.

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    1. @dbmoviesblog: Yes, Avatar loses something on the small screen, as thevoidd99 said in his comment, the flaws become more apparent on second viewing, and the visuals (without 3D) are less impressive on TV

      Of Malick’s work, I’ve only seen Tree of Life in cinema, I like his style with voice-over and emphasis on the visual side, and that film would rank in my top 10 cinema going visits of all-time. Very moving, very beautiful. Saw in an empty cinema on a massive screen by myself, and had a wonderful peaceful/calm feeling during and after the screening

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  9. I’d have to put Dunkirk in this category, and maybe Infinity War, though I’d need to see it on TV to make sure. I still liked Dunkirk on the small screen, but it’s full impact was lessened, especially the audio.

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    1. @sgliput : I agree the sound is really important in Dunkirk and you can’t bring that to a home viewing unless you spend a lot on speakers and what not

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  10. Another one is Saving Private Ryan – that opening scene bombarded the senses and gave the cinema audience a much more realistic impression of what it must have been like landing on those beaches than had hitherto been the case.

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    1. @Alyson: I haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan on TV, I remember being impressed by the unforgettable opening on the beach when I saw it back in 98-99, as you say bombarded the senses. I consider it to be Spielberg’s last great film (but I could be wrong as I don’t rewatch his films often)

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  11. Like many above, I relish the experience of watching movies on the big screen… but I refuse to watch them in 3D as I find it blurry and distracting and it usually gives me a headache. Saw Gravity at the cinema minus the 3D and thought it was beautifully shot. Can’t imagine it would have been better with added blurriness, but I agree it also wouldn’t work as well on TV.

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    1. @Rol: I know what you mean about 3D headaches. But if the film is special I am willing to suffer for it 🙂 If it’s any consolation I haven’t seen a film in 3D in years, Gravity was the last time (as far as I recall)

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  12. I’ll second Gravity. I saw that in 3D IMAX, and was the first person in the theater, which means I got the sweet spot seat where the screen essentially took up my entire field of vision. You can’t compete with that.

    The letdown on The Sixth Sense has nothing to do with the theater experience but the film itself. You watch once and gasp! Twist! Wow! Watch again and you see all of the foreshadowing. And then…there’s nothing left in that film.

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    1. @SJHoneywell : Gravity was amazing on the big screen, I felt transported into space

      I take your point and I admit The Sixth Sense is the most iffy of my five picks. I already had a James Cameron film and didn’t want to add Titanic. Felt like including a film that wasn’t about epic visuals. Time hasn’t been kind towards The Sixth Sense in terms of spoilers. What is sacred to me about the initial cinema screening in 1999 was the fact I (and others) were going in blind (without months/years of spoilery quotes and jokes in popular culture). The internet certainly has made films more difficult to go into blind, putting value in going early, such as Star Wars Force Awakens which most know the twist of now and is talked of casually in talk shows.

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  13. Gravity is definitely one I’d say benefits from the big screen. Same goes for Dunkirk more recently. Sound plays a key part in that “big screen” experience and with so few people having the inclination, space or money for a decent surround sound system at home, films like Gravity, which use the sound-stage so effectively, lose out.

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    1. @Dan: A good surround sound system definitely would help! The downside is you run the risk of attracting burglars if you spend a lot on fancy equipment. I’m afraid to revisit Dunkirk at home as I can’t see it being anywhere near the same experience.

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  14. I’m of the belief that nearly every movie plays better in a theater, simply because you have no control over the setting (you can’t pause a movie theater screen), and the setting is inherently isolating (no phone, little distraction). Any movie with a huge soundscape (like the blockbusters you mentioned) will play better in a theater, simply because no sound system at home can replicate movie theater sound. Horror films play better in the theater as well, because, again, you cannot stop the film, or enjoy the calming sunshine coming in through your living room window. You’re stuck, in the dark, with a bunch of strangers, having the shit scared out of you. I also think comedies play better in the theater, because laughter has a way of being infectious. Just hearing other people laugh can make something funnier. Great topic!

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    1. @Alex Withrow: Agree about comedies and blockbusters improve with an audience/big screen experience. Horror I tend to go the other way, if you are watching in the dark and you are by yourself, shudder… I was terrified during Paranormal Activity (at home). But as you say, the fact the viewer is unable to pause or be distracted by phones definitely provides the right environment for a film.

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  15. One movie I enjoyed way more in theaters than home was Tree of Life. The cinematography was beautiful and it felt like I was watching God’s home movies and I’m not religious in any way. It was very spiritual experience for me that didn’t match it at home

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    1. @The Vern: Great pick. by coincidence, I brought up Tree of Life in a previous comment in this thread (my reply to dbmoviesblog). Truly a wonderful, calming cinema experience. I felt at peace with nature. I’d go see it again if got re-released

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  16. Interesting list Chris. All choices I agree with, but perhaps to a lesser extent when it comes to Gladiator. A lot of critics have since reassessed it and the film has suffered for no other reason than its immense popularity (an opinion of mine that includes Tarantino skeptics and their distaste for Pulp Fiction for example).

    While you picked all good to great films to make up your list, I will give you a few that may or may not fall into that category:

    – Ghost in the Shell (2017): thin plot and thin characters, but incredible to look at on the big screen
    – House of Flying Daggers (2004): one of the most beautiful and visually striking films I ever watched in the theater. Though I still manage to enjoy it at home, it definitely doesn’t have the same effect.
    – The Witch (2016): I was fortunate enough to watch this in the theater and I was blown away by it. It’s one of my favorite horror films since, but I will say the effect it had on me upon first viewing could not be matched on a second or third viewing at home. I own the Blu-Ray and I have a pretty large television, but it still doesn’t do the trick, not to mention much of the horror comes in the many shocking ways in which the story unfolds, and the surprise is mostly gone after the first watch.
    – Max Mad: Fury Road (2015): one of my favorite films of the last few years was an incredible viewing experience at the theater. Though I still love rewatching it, no television can quite match the epicness of that film on the big screen.
    – Tron: Legacy (2010): not the best of films by any means. However, I gave it a shot in an Imax 3D Theater, and it was unbelievable to look at. Visuals 10, Plot and Characterization 2.

    There are many others I could quickly think about: Titanic, Blade Runner 2049, the new Planet of the Apes franchise & Under the Skin.

    Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Niels: Thanks for taking an interest. Good suggestions! Of yours, I’ve seen Max Mad: Fury Road at the cinema and I’m really happy I made the effort as I can imagine it’s slightly diminished watching on TV. I still love Titanic, the initial love was definitely sparked by the amazing big screen experience.
      Blade Runner 2049 I also saw in a theater for the impressive visuals but was lukewarm about the story and I found Gosling’s character a bit dull. Gladiator lost a lot on rewatch but it might be more about me than the film itself. If you watch it for the first time on TV I assume it’s pretty great.

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