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It is my understanding that movies started out being shot, edited and released on film - then advances in technology slowly allowed for digital editing, digital releases and then movies shot on digital cameras.

Obviously these changes happened over a period of time and different directors took to different aspects more than others, and so on. But if I went to see a general release movie today, I would expect the movie to at least be digitally edited and presented and probably also shot digitally.

So what would have been the last decade in the United States where the assumption for most films would be that it was shot, edited and presented all on film? I'm limiting the question to the USA and major films to make the scope of the question manageable.

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    Major movies (No Time to Die, Tenet) are still being filmed on film, at least partially. However, most cinemas now use digital projection (the transition mostly happening in the 2000s and early 2010s) and pretty sure most movies use digital editing and process since the late 80s or early 90s. Are you looking for when last the majority of major releases were 100% film from camera to projector?
    – HorusKol
    Feb 20, 2023 at 22:24
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    The big push, thanks to Lucas initially, was end of the 1990s, circa 1999 for digital presentation in theatres (guess what movie franchise). It was all downhill since then. By early 2000s digital projection was seen as an industry standard. Feb 20, 2023 at 22:42
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    Note that digital releases were the last part of the chain because they had to develop high resolution digital projectors and find a way to get the cinemas to buy them. Digital editing of analog film was widely adopted first, then digital capture began to be used for experimental and then big-budget films, then digital distribution and projection standards were established and deals were worked out with major theater chains to help them buy projectors and take delivery of digital films. Feb 21, 2023 at 3:53
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    IIRC digital projector takeup was initially resisted in many areas, but once that was gotten past, tye takeup was swift. I think single figure percentage remained in the US in mid-late 2000s. Feb 21, 2023 at 7:20
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    Why not both? Feb 21, 2023 at 13:17

1 Answer 1

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I'm sure others with better knowledge will be more specific but:

In short:

What would be the last decade in the US that wide release movies would be shot, edited and released on film?

1990s.

A modern movie, shot on film today (or last 5 years for example: Wonder Woman, La La Land, etc for example) would still get the digital treatment, once the film is in the can, through post production (scanned and edited) and into distribution and presentation (digital presentation at your local movie theatre).

In 2002, the Digital Cinema Initiatives (made up of MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros) was formed to create standards for digital cinema. According to its first release in 2005, films must have at least 2k resolution, the film must be transferred on a DCP or a Digital Cinema Package, and the film must have stringent encryption measures.

Part of the complication in an answer like this is the Cutting Room - the cutting process used in the linear editing of the negative - a hugely laborious process in terms of people and time - and expensive process that had been the norm in post production for decades. i think there was a huge push to get past this as it slowed the process of editing considerably (Unless you were Stanley Kubrick, he loved the editing process far more than the process of capturing it). I recall seeing paperwork for cutting room process and procedures in the 80s but this was gone by the 90s.

The desktop revolution and the introduction of computers enabling non-linear editing was a huge and swift revolution - the first digital non-linear editors arrived in the 80s, computer power dominated in the 90s and the desktop power took over over by the end of that decade - across the board in both long form and short form.

Regarding the establishing of the DCI DCP's, the first mainstream Hollywood movie to distribute both on a hard drive and on 35mm reels was 2005s Inside Man. Note, although shot on film - and developed and processed (bleach bypass etc) - the post production process was all digital once the resulting analogue process had been scanned (digital intermediate).

In the early 1990s, digital studios like Cinesite were created to take advantage of what digital intermediate offered long form (digital was already standard for short by then), using tools such as Flame and Inferno. 1993 Super Mario Brothers would one of the first to go through this process. By the time I was looking at those tools it was mid-90s and those tools were standard by then. That same decade was the last time I used a Steenbeck (16mm, KEM for 35mm). Those same digital tools lasted maybe less than five-ten years before being upstaged by desktop tools that could run on laptops.

The Phantom Menace had a limited digital projector release in 1999.

One of the first Hollywood films to be an entirely digital post process was 2000s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Digital intermediates accounted for more than half of Hollywoods production by early-mid 2000s.

So, without delving too far, 1990s would see a combination of the photochemical process being replaced by the digital process, post production - including editing - becoming almost an entirely digital process by the end of the 1990s; and digital distribution in theatres taking over traditional reel by mid 2000s.

In hindsight it looked like a pretty swift takeover from late 1980s to mid 2000s - but the 1990s was the big rollover.

The industry press was almost entirely digital in its coverage by the 1990s.

The last time you could conceivably get to see a reel, theatrically, in the US, that had been analogue from capture, process, edit, post, and distribution was probably very early 2000s, and already in dwindling availability by then; that said, the movie in question is far more likely to be an art house movie than a Hollywood blockbuster - for the latter you are probably looking at the 1990s.

Tarantino's Hateful Eight in 2015 had a largely analogue process, from capture to finish, timing, apparently avoiding the digital intermediate process (for 70mm), to distribution, and was the widest release in 70mm film since 1992's Far and Away. It required a large number of theatres to be retrofitted with projectors to screen the movie.

The year before, 2014, saw 'Anchorman 2' announced as Paramount’s final release on 35mm film, and that Wolf of Wall Street was the first major motion picture to be distributed entirely digitally.

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/06/the-silver-screen-no-more-distribution-of-film-to-cease-by-2013-in-the-us/

Celluloid no more: distribution of film to cease by 2013 in the US

Recommend a viewing of Side by Side (2012)

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    I lived in LA from 1999 to 2002 and while there saw the only surviving 70mm print of Ben-Hur and one of the first digital projections in a public movie theatre (at least in North America) which was the stunning re-release of Akira. That earlier digital projection (in 2001, I believe) was not so great, but it certainly presaged the digital projection revolution. Feb 21, 2023 at 3:47
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    In the 90s, editing was hybrid. The raw footage would be telecined into Avid Media Composer and the whole thing would be “edited” digitally. The result in many cases, especially early in the decade, was an EDL - edit decision list. This was a set of reel, feet, and frame numbers to use to cut and splice the analog film. Audio was entirely digital post-production at this time and synchronized with the digital Media Composer version until final mixing and layback to the finished print. Other processes were used to combine CGI shots with analog footage. Finally analog prints were made. Feb 21, 2023 at 3:59
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    I concur, recall rushing to see incredibly dirty but amazing prints of apocalypse now, 2001 and blade runner around that decade. Yes, i was already creating EDLs back then. What i was trying to say was that the whole post production phase was largely digital by that decade, without being too specific, as memory was a bit off. I was also vfx which itself was going through a revolution in those decades. Was anticipating being proven wrong in terms of widely distributed non DI'd Hollywood movie being released in the 1990s... Feb 21, 2023 at 7:12
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    @Fattie - yes. Two I know for certain [because I worked on them] were Dumbo & Last Night in Soho. Cameras have splitters these days so you can still farm out picture to everybody who needs a monitor on set. Digital compositing can also be tested almost 'live', so shots can be certain to match e.g. CGI flying elephants or the mirror work in LNiS.
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 22, 2023 at 8:31
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    Sorry, i thought Fattie was joking! :o I'll be testing some volume type stuff soon actually Feb 22, 2023 at 13:25

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