Today, in the cinema industry, pretty much all theaters use digital projectors for exhibition. D-Cinema standard calls for the 2K chips (most widely-used) to have 2048x1080 resolution; thus, "scope" aspect ratio is 2048x858 (1.76 megapixel) while "flat" aspect ratio is 1998x1080 (2.16 megapixel). 4K chips have more pixels but the same ratio. Scope movies have an effectively lower resolution as a result.
Additionally, when we consider in-home viewing, nearly all TVs and HD projectors are made with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is narrower than even theatrical widescreen (1.85:1), and thus, either requires cropping or letterboxing to fit the screen. Scope movies are even more disadvantaged here.
Thus the question: while the most common displays in theaters and in the home are closer to the theatrical "flat" ("widescreen") format, and the number of pixels used to display that image would be greater if the movie was filmed in flat, a very large number (perhaps majority?) of movies today are filmed and distributed using the scope aspect ratio. Some recent examples:
- The Invisible Man - Scope
- Wendy - Flat
- Burden - Scope
- Call of the Wild - Scope
- Brahms: The Boy II - Scope
- Emma - Flat
- Fantasy Island - Scope
- Downhill - Scope
- Ordinary Love - Scope
- The Photograph - Scope
- Sonic the Hedgehog - Scope
Of these last three weeks' worth of movies, just two were formatted in flat. Does anyone know why this is? Is it just industry inertia (see background), or is there more to it?
Back in the days of film, the industry had evolved to utilize essentially two aspect ratios. The first, known as "flat" or "widescreen", was 1.85:1 and took up roughly 1/2 of a frame of film.
Cinemascope, or just "scope" as we call it (2.39:1), used an anamorphic lens during filming to compress the image horizontally, such that it used almost 100% of the full frame. This came along with complicated optics on the projection side which were expensive and difficult to get in focus, but the result was an objectively higher-quality picture (both resolution and brightness were better).
Even though the picture quality of scope was better with film, the aspect ratios of screens didn't necessarily correspond to this. In the theaters where I worked, most houses had the screen get smaller for scope due to how the room was laid out. Our two largest houses, however, both had "native" scope screens, with the masking brought in on the sides to exhibit flat pictures. I still see the same today when I go to the movies - some auditoriums are formatted for flat to have a larger screen, while others are formatted for scope.
Along with this, I'm guessing (though I don't have solid numbers) that about 70% of the movies traditionally were filmed using scope, and that percentage would jump even higher - maybe to 90% if you took out kids/family films (which were mostly shot using flat). It is clear that there is a substantial tradition in the cinema of using the scope format.