'Sherlock' in movie theaters: How the lines between forms of entertainment are blurring

An upcoming episode of 'Sherlock' will be available for two days in movie theaters. This is just the latest sign that forms of entertainment are crossing over into one another as never before.

Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films and BBC Wales for BBC One and MASTERPIECE
'Sherlock' stars Benedict Cumberbatch (r.) and Martin Freeman (l.).

Sherlock Holmes is coming to the big screen. 

This is far from news in any sense, with the detective having been portrayed in film by actors from Basil Rathbone to Robert Downey Jr. 

But this time, his TV incarnation as played by Benedict Cumberbatch is arriving in cinemas. 

“Sherlock: The Abominable Bride,” a special set in the world of the hit British TV series “Sherlock” with Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, arrives in theaters on Jan 5 and 6. The episode will have debuted on TV in the U.S. and Britain on Jan. 1.

“Sherlock” is the newest TV show to have episodes come to movie theaters – the British program “Doctor Who” and HBO’s fantasy hit “Game of Thrones” have done so as well.

While these episodes have of course not topped the box office, industry watchers are often surprised by how well they do financially. After all, these are TV episodes that viewers have seen already – moviegoers who went to  see “Thrones” aren’t experiencing much new content except for brief previews of the next season.

So what’s the attraction? Why do those behind TV shows decide to bring episodes to theaters? 

Paul Levinson, author of such books as “McLuhan in an Age of Social Media” and professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, notes that those who go see anything in theaters are encountering strangers as opposed to watching TV at home by themselves or with family.

Yet those who go see a “Doctor Who” or “Thrones” episode in theaters are seeing it with people who are new to them but who love something they do.

“What you share is this common interest,” Mr. Levinson says. “You're fans… Sherlock Holmes is really a perfect example of the sense of community.” There have been Sherlock fans since Arthur Conan Doyle published his stories in the nineteenth century.

There’s of course an added attraction of seeing these visuals on the big screen, something that may have been crucial when “Thrones” arrived in theaters – one of the episodes was one that centered entirely on a battle.

“There's no doubt that as big as the screen is at home, it's still not as big as the screen at the movie theater,” Levinson says. 

But binge-watching shows could change what we see at the movie theater as well. As whole seasons of TV shows debut at one time, Levinson could see movie theaters screening whole seasons of shows over a weekend. 

“What's happening is these traditional forms – this is in the movies, this is on the television – no longer apply,” he says. 

Levinson says he was recently watching the Amazon program “The Man in the High Castle,” which takes place in an alternate America and has drawn attention for its depictions of, for one, Times Square decorated with a swastika.

“I was thinking, this would be wonderful and thrilling and even shocking to see on a big screen,” he says.

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