Another print icon bites the dust.
Leonard Maltin’s 2015 Movie Guide will be the final edition of this film lovers’ guide, which started in 1969 under the title TV MOVIES. But in recent years, the annual guide, which now numbers 1,611 pages and features nearly 16,000 capsule movie reviews, has become a victim of the changing times and the way information is consumed by a new generation. The new edition, which comes out Sept. 2, is the last, bad news for many industry-ites and film lovers who used it religiously.
“An entire generation has been raised to acquire all their information online from their mobile devices or computers,” Maltin told me this morning. “These are not the likely customers for a physical paperback reference book. Our sales have sharply declined in recent years.”
The virtual death of bookstores likely didn’t help the cause either. “We still have a loyal readership,” Maltin said. “It’s just smaller than it used to be. There are an awful lot of people who have been loyal to the book and are used to having it on their night stand or their coffee table for years and years and years. Some bought it sporadically and some bought it every year and God bless them.”
With the recent near-death of film stock, a print book largely covering movies made in that medium is probably, ironically, and sadly, an anachronism.
And the Internet with sites like Internet Movie Database, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and their ilk has taken over the sector so why not join them with an online version of the book? Maltin says it all came down to money.
“We were unable to find an effective way to monetize it on the Internet,” he said. “The iPhone app we had kind of fizzled too. The other answer, though, is these capsule reviews and capsulized information were meant to be in a paperback book. They were designed for this medium, for this format, and weren’t meant to be posted day and date with movie openings. The Internet has a different imperative and a different set of rules. We could conceivably adjust, but simply putting the book online would not be wise,” he said.
Maltin said that he, like everyone else, is an avid user of the web. “It’s a fantastic tool. I don’t have my head in the sand about this. We served a real purpose for several decades when there was no other source and I have had tremendous feedback and continue to get tremendous feedback from people who grew up on this book including a lot of filmmakers,” he said.
Director Noah Baumbach told Maltin he grew up with the book and actually referenced it in his 2010 film Greenberg. When someone asks the morose Ben Stiller how he’s doing, Stiller answers ‘okay’ and guesses “Leonard Maltin would give him two stars.”
Once Were Warriors director Lee Tamahori told Maltin, “I am thrilled to just be on the same page as Once Upon A Time In The West.” Alexander Payne said a review in the Guide meant the most to him because it was “for the ages.” Maltin says Billy Bob Thornton told him he spotted a copy for sale once in the Singapore Airport and it made him feel like there was a touch of home. In fact the Guide is sold around the world and has been translated into Italian and Swedish, among other languages.
Maltin was just a high school senior in the Spring of 1968 when a teacher, impressed by his self-published fan magazine called Film Fan Monthly, introduced him to an editor friend at Signet Books. The publisher (now PenguinRandomHouse) was looking to create a rival to Stephen Scheuer’s Movies On TV. After hearing the teenage Maltin’s ideas about how to do it, he was hired on the spot, but the editor didn’t tell anyone he was putting a 17-year-old in charge.
There were no plans for a series of books then and a new edition didn’t arrive for five years, and a third didn’t come for another four years. In 1978 it became biannual, then, in 1986, an annual rite of early Fall. It was around that time that my then-Entertainment Tonight colleague Maltin asked me to start contributing reviews to the book, which I have done ever since. Right from the beginning, Maltin knew he had to hire people to pull this project off.
“It was never going to be a one-person job but we have had largely the same production team over the years,” he said. Of all the capsule reviews I have done, my favorite remains one from 1989 for Police Academy 6: City Under Siege. In it I wrote, “This entry is only – repeat only - for those who thought Police Academy 5 was robbed at Oscar time.”
I gave that film a BOMB rating but the guide also allowed scores of anything from four stars to one and a half stars. Maltin says Oliver Stone once reminded him of the one and a half stars he gave to his movie The Hand in 1981.
The book became so big and loaded with material and titles that there was talk about splitting it into two volumes, but that wasn’t practical. Instead, a companion Classic Movie Guide was created in 2005. A third edition of that book is now planned for 2015. It features many genuine classics but also B movies, silents and others that could no longer fit into the regular guide. There are more than 300 new entries in the new final edition of the latter. Time moves on, but Maltin says, “Thanks for the memories.
“You can’t complain about a 45-year run. I would be a fool to be ungrateful for such a great, long-lasting success and so many devoted readers,” said Maltin.