Netflix Is Changing. Beware Streamageddon.

Slate's Culture Blog
April 30 2013 2:28 PM

The Great Netflix Purge

For many Netflix subscribers, tomorrow is just another day. But to serious movie fans, especially those used to plumbing Netflix’s streaming library for lesser-known classics, May 1 is the end of an era: Streamageddon. Hundreds of titles, including many classics, will cease to be available on the site.*

Complicating matters further, Netflix is currently testing a variety of new interfaces, rolling out variations on its iconic queue to small groups of users. Instead of a customizable queue, some—like me—now see a “list” which can only be sorted according to a handful of options. See the screenshot below, and don’t judge me.

netflixscreenshot

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Others apparently see only a list of recommended titles. To judge from this discussion thread, the only thing these new options share is that Netflix’s customers loathe them. According to Netflix spokesman Joris Evers, they’re doing “what’s called A/B testing to see which version of a particular feature/experience results in increased Netflix viewing and better retention of our members.” So if people quit the service, as many of the complainants have threatened to do, that’s a good indication they didn’t like the new look. (Update, 4:10 p.m.: Evers writes in to note that “members who see their queue changed into a list as part of the test and don’t like it can contact customer support and request to leave the test and get their old experience back.”)

Along with losing the ability to customize the order of titles, the new views also omit information like when movies expire, which means some Netflix viewers may be unaware that they’re about to lose a significant chunk of their queue (or “list” or whatever). The handy site InstantWatcher has a long list of movies that won’t be available on Netflix after tonight, but given that the clock is running down fast, we’ve narrowed it down to 12 that are especially worthy, with an emphasis on movies that are hard to find elsewhere. Pick a few and stay in tonight.

Beach Red (1967)
Directed by and starring Cornel Wilde, a heady, almost surrealistic vision of the brutality of combat, set during World War II but clearly intended to comment on the Vietnam War.

The Bed-Sitting Room (1969) and How I Won the War (1967)
A classic and a curiosity from A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester. The Bed-Sitting Room is Lester’s commonly acknowledged (though not widely seen) masterpiece, a bleak post-apocalyptic farce in which the Earth’s population has been reduced to a handful of people, some of whom morph into inanimate objects without notice. How I Won the War is best remembered for featuring John Lennon in a small role, but the film centers on Michael Crawford as an inept officer who survives repeated attempts at fragging. Lester described as an “anti-anti-war movie,” a movie opposing the ineffectual cliches of the traditional anti-war movie.

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Hard to imagine who thought sensual maximalist Ken Russell, coming off a brilliant run on the BBC’s Monitor, would be the right fit for the third film in Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer series. But Russell’s eccentric take on the genre is a delight for those not inclined to take it seriously.

The Delinquents (1957), Thieves Like Us (1974), and Vincent & Theo (1990)
Robert Altman’s first feature is mostly for completists, but Thieves Like Us (adapted from the same source novel as They Live By Night) and his Van Gogh biography Vincent & Theo are both overlooked masterpieces.

Dr. No (1962) and Goldfinger (1964)
With the MGM catalogue goes a slew of Bond titles. Time being short, stick to these two.

Gregory’s Girl (1984)
A fantastically charming Scottish romance from Local Hero director Bill Forsyth.

Kes (1969) and Ladybird Ladybird (1994)
Early and mid-period social realism from the great Ken Loach, the latter otherwise unavailable in the U.S.

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) and One, Two, Three (1961)
Two from the great Billy Wilder, the latter with James Cagney’s keen performance as Coca-Cola’s man in West Berlin.

Marat/Sade (1967)
Legendary theatre director Peter Brook works behind the camera, adapting his celebrated stage version of Peter Weiss’s play.

Never on Sunday (1960)
American expat Jules Dassin is celebrated most these days for spare noir films like Rififi and The Naked City, but his giddy celebration of Greek culture—and the abundant charms of wife-to-be Melina Mercouri—was a great popular success.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
No relation to Nathaniel Rich’s widely reviewed new novel, this is a taut heist thriller with gripping performances by Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame, Ed Begley and Harry Belafonte.

Stardust Memories (1980)
Elegantly bridging the gap between Woody Allen’s comedies and his “serious” films, the story of a director looking back on his films—and implicitly ahead to the next ones—features the classic scene in which space aliens express their preference for Allen’s “early, funny ones.”

Update, 10:36 p.m.: Joris Evers of Netflix writes in to say that Netflix often licenses movies on an exclusive basis and sometimes chooses not to renew less watched titles. He also notes that many of the movies expiring at midnight were part of a deal Netflix had with Epix.

* Correction, May 1, 1:07 p.m.: This post previously stated that these titles would become exclusively available on Warner Archive Instant. A spokesperson for Warner Bros. tells Slate that the films being removed from Netflix’s streaming service do not belong to Warner Bros.

Sam Adams writes for the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Time Out New York, the Onion A.V. Club, and the Philadelphia City Paper. Follow him on Twitter.