According to unnamed industry executives speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Paramount has ceased releasing films on 35mm film and will go forward distributing movies exclusively in digital formats. The LA Times‘ sources said that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was the last Paramount movie with a celluloid release, and Wolf of Wall Street was the first major motion picture to be distributed entirely digitally.
The move has been a long time coming. Back in 2012, digital media research company IHS Screen Digest predicted that movie studios would cease producing 35mm film prints for major markets like the US, France, the UK, Japan, and Australia by the end of 2013. IHS also predicted that worldwide film distribution would cease by 2015.
The Los Angeles Times noted that Paramount has kept the landmark move quiet, possibly due to the fact that “no studio wants to be seen as the first to abandon film, which retains a cachet among purists.” Still, film prints can be up to twenty times as expensive to create and distribute as digital prints; the Times says a digital print can cost the studio $100, whereas a film print can sometimes cost $2,000 to make.
While more cost-efficient for the studios, the move to digital might hurt some smaller theaters that can’t afford $70,000 digital projection systems. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, 8 percent of theaters in the US are not equipped with digital projection systems. That’s down from 10 percent when we last checked in in June 2012, although it’s not clear how much of that decrease is due to theaters making upgrades, and how much is due to theaters closing.
While the change is likely to create nostalgia for the century-old format, the big studios will likely fall in line after Paramount. As the Times pointed out, Martin Scorsese’s cachet was not enough to hold back the move to digital distribution. “The Wolf of Wall Street would seem an unlikely choice for the industry’s first all-digital wide release,” the Times wrote. “The movie was partially shot on film, and its director, Martin Scorsese, is a passionate advocate for film preservation.”