Why use widescreen instead of 16:9 aspect ratio in modern cinema?


Pretty much what the title says. I understand that widescreen works in movie theaters, but the content will inevitably spend the vast majority of its life on the screens people have at home. Why lose so much picture real estate in favor of two thick black bars?

I’m sure there’s an obvious answer I’m missing, so please go gentle on me. I’m no cinematographer; this is just something that has been bugging me for quite some time. I feel like I’m not getting everything I could from movies/shows nowadays, because everyone seems to be determined to pursue this (imho pointless) “cinematic” look.

In: 2

> imho pointless

Well as long as you’re not biased.

Movie makers are making movies for cinemas. They’re not concerned by you thinking it’s “pointless”. They’re making an experience for cinemas.

There’s another issue here, though, which is that movie theatres want to offer you something you can’t get at home. This is why movies went widescreen when TVs where still 4:3.

Which is another point — TVs only went widescreen relatively easily. Movies were widescreen decades before.

It’s a stylistic choice, and it’s about the composition of the shots. Remember how there used to be black bars at the top and bottom of 16:9 images on 4:3 displays so you could see all of the widescreen picture inside the bars? It’s the same principle.

Now that 4:3 displays are virtually non existent and everything is 16:9 (standard widescreen) I think there are more decisions being made to use letterboxed 2.35:1 and similar ratios to allow extra-wide shots that, 20 years ago, would have been cut virtually in half for TV pan and scan transmission, for a more cinematic look.

I can’t imagine watching the Star Wars movies, to use an obvious example, in anything but 2.35:1 because they’re the perfect format for allowing as much of a glimpse at the alien landscapes as possible. Just wouldn’t be the same in the standard 16:9 imo.

Movie directors are not creating something for a television screen. They are making something for a movie screen, and they may have a specific aspect ratio that they want to use.

I understand your point; in your mind, the movie will spend most of its existence in a form that is watchable on television. But the director doesn’t really care about that phase of life; they want it to look good on the movie screen, which is their canvas.

It’s a bit like asking why the chef at a nice restaurant doesn’t design his meals to be easily microwaved at home. Yeah, he knows leftovers are a thing, but he’s designing something to be enjoyed in the restaurant, and that’s where his focus should be.

Thank you for your answers. It does seem that I was missing the bigger picture in more than one sense.