I am a person who loves movies, which means that I should be painfully happy to be alive in 2018. After all, between all the streaming platforms and all the illegal streaming sites, I have access to nearly every movie ever made. And yet, I miss DVDs. I get sentimental about DVDs. I find myself gaining wistfully at the small stack in my office sent in by particularly desperate press people. Why? Because I loved building my DVD collection. It was inconvenient and expensive and, in retrospect, kind of ridiculous, but that act of accumulation also felt intensely personal.
I’m not going to pretend that the internet hasn’t created some serious advantages for movie lovers. It obviously has. Services like Netflix and Hulu have made it easy for people to watch more movies for less effort than ever before, and blah blah blah — why am I telling you this? You stream movies, because of course you do. You use algorithms because of course you do. Me too. I dig them. And I like Netflix movies. Did you see Okja? That movie was terrific. What it wasn’t was a physical object. And physical objects are a lovely thing to have and hoard.
Thus the nostalgia for the days of DVDs. With the convenience of streaming comes the lack of true agency that once existed when you owned a DVD. To the casual movie fan, having a collection of DVDs may have just seemed like an inconvenient use of space. But, unlike your Netflix queue, a DVD collection was an extension of who you were. My DVD collection now feels like an extension of who I was in 2007 — you know, when owning a movie meant something.
At the time, the search for the right film to add to my collection would consume my time and thoughts far more than it had any right to. Was it inconvenient and tedious? You bet. But that was half the fun. Buying a new DVD was not a careless, flippant choice that I made, picking what new artist or album to add to my carefully curated collection was as thrilling as it was excruciating. These decisions were life and death, despite, ultimately, being about as low-stakes as decisions can possibly be.
Would I go with a classic movie or try to add something new? Should I finally give Buñuel a chance or get one step closer to owning the entire discography of the Coen Brothers? And what about that new Spike Lee joint? I know everybody said it was kinda shitty but how could the same man who created Do the Right Thing make anything bad?
There were no right or wrong answers. But regardless of the natural subjectivity of appreciating art, compiling the perfect collection of movies was an impossible dream I was always chasing. As a nerdy but slightly hip suburban teen, DVDs were a part of me. They showed others what I thought, what I felt, what made me cry, what made me laugh, what made me think, what I thought was worth my time. And I didn’t just want to buy DVDs, I wanted to collect them. That collection meant something.
And let’s not forget the delicate art of lending films. Now? I can just text my latest movie recommendation to a friend and they will have instant access to it. But pre-internet, lending one of my favorite DVDs to someone was a sacred bond. And, let’s be real, when lending it to a crush, it was lending a part of myself to them. Which was the right DVD? Do I want to show off my brooding sophistication and understanding of satire by lending them American Psycho? Or maybe I should stop trying to show off and just stick with Wayne’s World? (Okay, so high school me didn’t have the most sophisticated taste. But he had taste.)
It’s also worth briefly mentioning how DVD special features factored into this entire process, as it is easy to forget just how amazing it was to have to have access to deleted scenes and behind the scenes features. And don’t even get me started on the majesty of a truly great DVD commentary, as there were few things in life that have brought me more joy than getting to hear Elijah Wood and Sean Astin discuss their on-set memories as Frodo and Sam wandered hopelessly through Mordor. Is this all available online? Yes. But, and I know how this makes me sound, it’s not the same.
I understand I might sound like an old curmudgeon. But I’m not arguing that we all cancel our Netflix subscriptions and head over to the local Best Buy bargain bin. I’m fully jacked into online movie consumption and have slowly but surely disposed of the majority of my once-substantial collection of movies.
What I am doing is asking that we briefly pay tribute to an old tradition that has come and gone with the passing of time. Because while Netflix might be an objectively easier way for us to consume movies, there is an unmistakable charm that came with the physical ownership of a movie on DVD. And when enough DVDs came together, they formed a collection. And for countless teens and 20 somethings who grew up in a certain era, a DVD collection was a holy and sacred thing — it was our record collection, the thing that gave us a sense of identity, one that our Netflix queues never could. Because it was a permanent piece of us. Or so we all thought.