Big screen or small, does it matter what size screen you watch films on?

Recently I was watching Mark Kermode’s review of Godzilla on YouTube, when he made a point that he’s made before, which was urging people to go and see the movie on the biggest screen possible to really immerse yourself in it. He was making particular reference to the third act and the sense of scale experienced during the latter part of the film.

Similar statements were made by various people around the time The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises came out, as well as both Star Trek films, and in those cases the ante was raised even further by talking about how they really came alive in Imax.


To my mind, this adds a layer of elitism, something to separate film-watchers into different groups. It lends itself to a kind of attitude where if someone does fail to see a particular film on an impressive screen, it can almost be used as a stick to beat someone with. I can well imagine having a conversation with someone who has seen Godzilla at the Imax and having them say to someone like me who has only seen it at the local Vue in little old Croydon that ‘oh, you haven’t really experienced it as it was meant to be experienced’.

I realise that in most cases it wouldn’t be used in such a way (although I have noticed more and more people making reference to where exactly they saw a film) and really it’s just a little pet hate, but I think the reason it grates so much is what for me seems a lack of logic.


For one thing, what are your most fond or enduring movie memories? I’d wager that a fair few of the most enduring ones are from watching films at home as a kid. My earliest memories of films are being completely and utterly mesmerised by films such as Big Trouble in Little China, The Golden Child and Speed. I clearly remember the tape on my mum’s VHS copies of Big Trouble and Speed being worn out from repeated viewings.

The connecting thread of those experiences is that it wasn’t a cinema screen that I was watching these films on but rather, I was sat on the carpet in my living room in front of a small TV.  For all intents and purposes though, I was with Kurt Russell fighting David Lo Pan and laughing hysterically as Eddie Murphy antagonised his dear, sweet brother Numsie.

It was the same in my adolescence when I watched The Matrix for the first time on DVD, and the same now as an adult whenever I catch something at home that I haven’t had the chance to see at the cinema.


The first time I watched Terminator 2 I was in awe of the whole thing, but seeing as I was 5 when it came out, I certainly wasn’t in a position to see it at the cinema. I’m sure if it was being released today there would be talk of how spectacular it looks and how amazingly breath-taking it is in Imax. But the size of the screen isn’t where the real magic lies is it?

It’s in the story, the characters. I’m quite firm in the belief that when everything comes together there is no difference in the emotional impact that two people would experience in watching a film, even if one was sat at the biggest screen available and one was sat at home. That includes taking into consideration the sheer scale of the really big screens which are always talked about as being so incredibly immersive. Simply, imagination takes care of any shortfall in screen size. It always has and always will.

The magic of storytelling, whether it be a book or film, is the ability it has to transport you to another place regardless of where you are. Reading a book on a train on your way to work probably isn’t the best setting but that isn’t to say that you don’t fall into the world of the story when you do it.


I’m not trying to speak out against cinema here, rather I’m celebrating the power of stories to captivate no matter what the setting, and there is no disputing that seeing films on the big screen is definitely a great experience.

What I am taking a position against, is the issue of screen size becoming more of a ‘thing’, either from critics reviewing a film or from friends recommending one. Talk to me about the script, the characters, whether you found it interesting. Tell me you found it visually stunning if you want, I can appreciate all of those things no matter what I watch a film on.  Just leave the big screen posturing out of it.


Featured image taken from here



  1. My friend, you are oh so right. I’m a little older than you and I remember seeing T2, Jurassic Park, Predator, Speed, and Crimson Tide in the movie theater. What overwhelmed me was the sound (the Technical Awards people win at the Oscars) and how engulfing to my senses these sounds were. It becomes an experience, an event to have these take over everything. And at the same time, manipulative. We are talking about action movies, so the narrative and acting quotient will be way down, probably why these films only get nominated for and win Technical Awards like sound and sound mixing. The point of these films is to hit you over the head with bone-crunching, metal-screeching sounds. That said, Nolan’s Batman series was different. It wanted the sound as well as the complex narrative and intense acting. Being hit over the head with sounds wasn’t going to cut it and I think seeing his films in the super sound, IMAX movie theater possibly does a disservice, obfuscating the depth of Nolan’s work. I get motion sickness so I cannot see 3-D IMAX anyway. Sadly, elitism continues to pervade our society including what should be the all-inclusive world of films.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I read somewhere recently that the sound in cinemas has got louder over the years. I thought it was just something I was imagining, or that I’d just got more sensitive to it. Your point about being hit over the head with sound and how it takes over is something that I too find can be detrimental to the overall experience. It does become a dominating feature rather then being another considered layer to the overall narrative. (on that subject, Berberian Sound Studio is a great example of sound as narrative)

      Everything it seems has to be bigger and louder.

      It’s also way to prevalent in what I think is now called ‘cattle prod’ horror films, where instead of carefully constructed scares, you just have the same formula of quiet periods interspersed with loud BANGS. You’re not jumping because the film is particularly scary, but because you can’t help it.

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