The value of paying for movies

A post-Netflix perspective

Dear A,

I recently cancelled my Netflix subscription and it's had an interesting effect on my "nightlife."

The reason I unsubscribed was that I gave up trying to find something worthwhile in their catalogue. Our 1.5 year old finally goes to bed in the evening and what do we do with our time? Waste half an hour searching for something worthwhile to watch. And we often fail to find it and retire for the night.

My January watch list

Now that I've cancelled Netflix and can see more clearly, the problem, I believe, lies with their catalogue. Netflix is trying to centralise the world's movies and TV shows but that is a herculean task that I just don't see them succeeding at (nor do I want them to - they've jacked up the bundled price a few times now, just like every other platform plays).

There are simply too many visual stories being told and locating all of them and securing the rights to air them takes more time and energy than what is worthwhile to Netflix as a business. There's the long tail of indie movies that won't show, and there are hit movies whose rights are expensive to negotiate.

By the way, as I'm writing this, I'm surprised to realise just how much I care about movies. If I'm honest with myself, and you know I try to when I write these letters to you, I spend a lot of time watching movies. This was true before our daughter was born and it's still true now that she is here. The "still watching movies regularly now" part still surprises me. I guess I just innately and deeply love stories.

Specifically I think I'm drawn to movies because it is a form of storytelling that is the most inviting. By the time there is a movie to watch, you know that the screenwriters, directors, and publicists would have put in the energy to draw you in and keep you engaged. The visuals and the scores of good movies reliably transport me instantly to a new reality, and while I'm there, they present me with myriad feelings and thoughts to process. I just love that.

But I think the reason I keep choosing to spend what little evening time I have watching movies is because of how social it is by design. After a long day, I could sit next to my partner in bed and read a book, but unless she reads the same book at the same pace as I do, we're not going to be able to talk about the story.

A movie solves that problem by having a director who pre-interprets the story and presents the story to us in real time, frame by frame. The movie always ends at the same time for both of us, and we would have watched the story unfold at exactly the same time, which means so many things: we can exchange looks at each other when something unexpected happens during the movie, and we can talk immediately about it after The End.

But I know you're probably thinking right now, if I was really trying to optimise for socialness, we should just be talking, right? Well, yes, sort of? But then neither of us feels like chatting sufficiently winds us down after a long day, you know? We do chat, and sometimes that's all we do in our "nightlife" before we enter our dreams (how nice if we could share dreams like in Inception!), but we like the momentary shared escapism that movies give us. Maybe you know what I mean.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write to you about me cancelling my Netflix subscription is to tell you how much richer our movie-watching experience has become ever since.

Before telling you how I feel about the changes, allow me to show you what changes we've made. Instead of paying Netflix $17 every month regardless of how much or how little we watch:

I'm now paying a variety of platforms $4-8 per movie. Here are, for example, my recent movie rentals from Amazon Prime (via

(I didn't and don't have Amazon Prime. You don't need a membership to purchase or rent movies on demand on most of sites like YouTube or Amazon Prime. Netflix and Disney+ are the exceptions.)

Here's the full list of movies I've watched on-demand after cancelling Netflix.

In December:

  • Top Gun: Maverick (€2,99) ← awesome
  • The Hunger Games 1 (€3,99)

In January:

  • The Hunger Games 2 (€3,99)
  • The Hunger Games 3 Part 1 (€3,99)
  • The Hunger Games 3 Part 2 (€3,99)
  • Cash Truck (€2,99)
  • Bullet Train (€4,99) ← so good!
  • Dune (€4,99) ← soundtrack of this one is chefs-kiss good
  • Everything Everywhere All At Once (€4,99) ← so, SO good!
  • (Total: €30)

In February so far:

  • Mission: Impossible 1 (€3,99) ← like, finally?!
  • Collateral (€3,99)

I wonder, how do you feel seeing that list? Apart from my movie choices, how do you feel about the fact that I paid €30 to watch all those movies in January instead of what I would have paid if I stuck with Netflix, which would have been €15?

I'm seeing that list as a whole for the first time, too, by the way. The first thing I felt was "stupid," because I'd just paid double to watch 7 movies instead of being able to watch literally countless movies within January. But it didn't take long for me to realise that that's looking at it the wrong way.

If I were to think about it from an economic point of view, I believe that my time in a single evening is more precious than €30. Seriously, I would easily and regularly pay €100 to have an evening out with my partner while our kid is asleep if it's as easy as clicking a few buttons to find a trustworthy babysitter. €10 for a movie? That's nothing compared to 2 hours of my life being wasted watching some crap that I can't remember a month from now because it was produced in a haste for a generic taste.

Anyway, can you guess how many of these movies I couldn't find on Netflix? (I have a subscription from Germany.) Virtually all of them weren't available on Netflix. I've been frustrated many times when I google for a movie recommendation, watch the trailer on YouTube, like it enough to want to watch it, and then find it unavailable on Netflix. You have Netflix, right? I'm sure you know the special slow-burning agony that I'm talking about.

I'm very happy that I've cancelled my Netflix subscription because now, the world's movie catalogue is truly, for once, at my fingertips.

If you're still on Netflix — I'm telling you as a friend — consider cancelling it. Go on-demand instead. You're probably going to be less frustrated and more well-entertained.

Your friend,

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