Rewatching Films, TV Reruns and Playing Old Games – Why Do We Do It?

No, this isn’t an explanation for our weird habits. That’s something better left to sociology majors. I’m not even trying to comment on human behavior. There are swan-wearing Icelandic singers that do that far better than I could. I just want to talk about content consumption, why it is that we can watch the same thing over and over again – and why that, in some cases, we prefer it.

I have an ever increasing pile of shame. There are brilliant games that I’ve never played, some of which I own. I know I’d enjoy the rest of ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ for example. And I feel like it’s important to my gaming literacy that I complete at least one ‘Tomb Raider’ game. Yet I end up playing ‘Civilization’ yet again. Currently it’s ‘Civilization Revolution,’ which isn’t as in depth as its big brothers, but is much better suited for bite sized chunks of gaming.

I’ve got movies to watch too. ‘Heat’ is at the top of my movie pile. I’ve been putting it off for years. I’v seen ‘Beerfest’ at least five times, but I’ve never seen an Akira Kurosawa film. I’ve had the ‘Vengeance’ trilogy on my Netflix queue for a year now. They’re even available to watch streaming, and I haven’t gotten as far as the opening credits to ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.’ But don’t even ask me how many times I’ve watched ‘Monster Squad.’

Television may be even worse. I’ve seen every episode of ‘Home Movies’ at least four times through, and the third and fourth seasons even more. I’ve seen ‘Arrested Development’ from start to finish at least once a year for the last three years. I’ve watched the full season of ‘Firefly’ more times than I’d care to admit. But I’ve never seen ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ or more than a few episodes of ‘Breaking Bad.’

I think it’s partially because I like experiences with a bit of a nostalgia factor to them. Every time I play through ‘Final Fantasy VI,’ I remember reading through the instruction manual as a kid, and sneaking from my room to the television at two in the morning. I get a bit of that feeling back.

It’s also, in part, due to the fact that these are tried and true. I know ‘Shaun of the Dead’ will be great every time I watch it. With another movie, I’d be taking the chance of not enjoying it. So why not just go for something that I know is good?
In a way, it’s a bit of a ritual. When Christmas comes, I always watch ‘Scrooged,’ ‘Die Hard,’ and ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol.’ Once a year I’ll read ‘Ender’s Game,’ not because I expect to get something new out of it, but because it’s what I do.

I know I’m not the only one. If I were, no one would own movies. What, after all, is the point of buying something you’re only going to watch once? If you’re shelling out $30 for a Blu-ray, chances are it’s for a flick you wouldn’t mind seeing a few times. So what is it that compels you to watch the same thing over and over again while neglecting other experiences that could be superior?


  1. Jane Morgan

    Dick, I envy you. I wish I could go back and watch HEAT again for the first time. That movie is incredible.

    I watched it, for like my 10th time, two months ago. The blu-ray is fantastic.

    You need to sit your ass down and watch it. With big speakers for the shoot-out scene!

    Is SEVEN SAMURAI on blu-ray? Because you need to watch that too.

  2. David

    I know how you feel. I have watched Iron Man 15+ times, but I still have not seen Benjamin Button and it has been in my Netflix queue for months.

  3. Freddy

    We laugh at work about how we talk about and quote the same 7 or 8 movies every day. One of the guys said he has watched 500 movies, but it was the same 5, 10 times each.

    I like the familiarity. I know that Superbad, Knocked Up, and Pineapple Express are going to make me laugh. I know that I’m going to be satisfied after watching Empire Strikes back.

    It’s no different than listening to a favorite album over and over. You are comfortable with it and you know what to expect. Freddy

  4. EM

    “So what is it that compels you to watch the same thing over and over again while neglecting other experiences that could be superior?”

    Well, one answer would be the possibility that other experiences would turn out to be quite inferior.

    A long time ago, when “DVD” was just a random jumble of letters and high-definition television was the stuff of science fiction, I decided one year that it would be great to rent a horror movie or two to watch at Halloween. So, I went to the video store, carefully chose a couple of reputable movies (skipping over any titles that were currently rented, of course), and prepared for a fun fright fest. Alas, I was disappointed: the films I had chosen just didn’t click for me, putting a damper on the whole holiday. Right then and there I decided that for future Halloweens I would make sure I had familiar, sure-fire viewing available.

    I do like to sample unfamiliar movies (Halloweenish or otherwise), but there are times—not just at Halloween—when I want to be guaranteed an enjoyable experience. In such an instance, an unfamiliar work simply cannot be relied on.

  5. coologuy1957

    obviously those are the movies that touch us the most – in one way or another…

    your comment about remembering reading the instruction manual is accurate – every movie (game, book) might not be so specific – it could just be a general feeling you remember or a state of mind – who your girlfriend was at the time… the state of the theater… the dark rainy night you just had to see something scary…

    those things pile up and become infinitely more meaningful than some new movie/game/book….

    I know cuz I’m just like you. I have a pile of movies, books, and games that have yet to be watched, while I have seen the Big Lebowski about 52 times and put it on just to shut out ambient noise at this point!!!

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