The problem with film aspect ratio on Netflix

aspect ratio film

© Vashi Visuals

As you can see in the above image, films can be shot in different aspect ratios. Depending on the aspect ratio that’s chosen, this creates different film experiences, from sweeping to intimate. Good directors and cinematographers make a very conscious decision to choose a ratio that suits the story and setup of the movie the best. This makes it a terrible shame when streaming services such as Netflix offer up an altered version post-release.

This process is what we refer to as cropping. It was very common on older TVs, as their shape was more like a square and not like the current batch of widescreen flat-screen TVs. When movies aired, often the ratio would get altered: a widescreen movie would have the sides removed so it fit into the screen. This means you sometimes would see the following message before a movie:

This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen.

Now that we live in a different age of better televisions, it’s upsetting to see Netflix, HBO, and other streaming services still serve up this type of mangled content.

Here’s an example from The Last Action Hero:


Last Action Hero – original ratio

Last Action Hero – cropped ratio

Netflix has in the past commented on these kinds of wrong releases, stating the following:

We want to offer the best picture and provide the original aspect ratio of any title on Netflix. However, unfortunately our quality controls sometimes fail and we end up offering the wrong version of a title. When we discover this error, we work to replace that title as soon as possible.

It is easy to blame the streaming service here for the altered ratio, but that’s not entirely correct. Although Netflix continues to create its own new content (read up on Netflix’ localized content here) it currently still heavily relies on content bought from other studios. Often these are the ones selling them the wrongly cropped versions, which is something missed by the Netflix QA team.

The main takeaway from this is that you can’t fully rely on Netflix to show you a movie the way it’s meant to be seen. If you’re a true film puritan, you’re still better off buying Blu-Ray versions of movies instead.

To see more examples of cropping on streaming services, check out the video below.

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