Watch some literally iconic films in ASCII

Art collective Mschf have launched a project allowing people to stream movies in text characters via computer command terminals

An unlikely new rival has landed in the streaming landscape. People can now watch a roster of films for free via their computer’s command terminal thanks to the latest project by Mschf – the art collective responsible for the cartoonish Big Red Boot phenomenon that went viral last year.

ASCII Theater broadcasts one movie every 24 hours on a rolling basis. So far, classics like Eraserhead and Goodfellas have been available, while Pulp Fiction, The Great Gatsby and The Shining appear in a trailer on the site. Each day, the collective share a code that people can then paste in their command terminal to bring up the film.

Don’t expect pristine picture quality though. The movies are delivered in ASCII, which is solely made up of characters like letters, numbers and punctuation. The format gave rise to ASCII art, which enjoyed popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, and even some video projects, but screening entire films this way is rare for pretty obvious reasons.

Screenshot of the ASCII Theater website by Mschf

If it all sounds legally dubious, it is, but Mschf is provocative by design. In an exchange with the Verge, Mschf director of marketing Matt Steiner said: “Copyright has always been conceptually productive for us…. It’s also a place where people experience subverting restrictive systems in casual life.”

It’s not the cinematic experience that most filmmakers would have in mind, but what ASCII Theater does exceptionally well is illustrate how – literally – iconic certain films have become. When you can make out Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance or Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby from a bunch of text characters, it’s a reminder of just how lodged these images are in our collective consciousness.