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Question:

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?

Background:

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.

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    This is IMHO far too broad and impossible to answer. You first need to establish far stricter parameters of what kind of movies to include in this "survey" (e.g. what about Netflix movies? what about documentaries? US-only?) and then you'd need to find out the relevant tech aspects. It would be an immense amount of work for what would be IMHO a trivial and meaningless number. (FYI: IMDb currently lists 6,500+ movies for 2020 alone: imdb.com/search/title/?year=2020&title_type=feature ; for 2019 they have 11,000+ releases listed.) – BCdotWEB Feb 25 at 15:46
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    Why is this too broad? These are standard formats, used by all theatrical and non-theatrical formats, with very few exceptions. I don't need an exact number either, I'm more looking for someone with more familiarity and/or knowledge on the topic. – theMayer Feb 25 at 15:54
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    But this doesn't sound too broad either when posed as a general question about the film industry. Of course an exact number would be both impossible to give and rather useless, but fortunately that's not what this question is asking for really. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 25 at 16:04
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    Like I said: what about Netflix movies (and the likes)? What about documentaries? Do you include Bollywood movies? European movies? Any non-US made movies? Do you exclude certain types of movies? I also don't see why any answerer shouldn't provide evidence to back up any claim. Suppose someone says "it's 75% nowadays" and another says "it's 80%": how do you determine who is right? And in the end it is a meaningless number since it is used to compare against a completely unsubstantiated claim of "it used to be 70%". – BCdotWEB Feb 25 at 16:52
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    If you’re only interested in stuff that goes into theaters, say that in the question. 😀 Can you list some films that got you thinking about this? From what I learned in film school, this is often an aesthetic choice -“it’s more cinematic”... just think about wide landscape shots in war films... but knowing which film or films you’re interested in makes it more likely you’ll get a helpful answer. Anyway, I’ve seen decent answers to this on Quora and reddit so feel free to do some research and come back and answer your question yourself. 🙂 – Catija Feb 27 at 15:42

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