Netflix is altering its longstanding tradition of releasing its award-hopeful movies in limited theatrical runs simultaneously with their streaming release just to qualify. While technically, these small theatrical runs are enough to qualify for the Academy Awards and other honors, so far they haven’t worked, as they don’t generate as much buzz and many voting purists view them as made-for-TV movies that have no place beside regular theatrical films.
Because Netflix chose to release these movies in theaters at the exact same time as they were made available to stream, many theater owners refused to carry them, and rightly so, as most people won’t pay money to see a movie in a theater when they can stream it for free at home. Amazon, long ago, agreed to hold off on releasing its award-hopefuls on Amazon Prime Video, in order to give them a decent theatrical run first. Last year’s ‘The Big Sick’ is a perfect example, as it earned raves and drew viewers to theaters to see what all the fuss was about because that was the only way to see it at first.
Among the films that Netflix will release to theaters first is the dystopian sci-fi thriller ‘Bird Box’, directed by Susanne Bier, starring Sandra Bullock, which has earned comparisons to ‘A Quiet Place’.
Being a genre movie, ‘Bird Box’ may be a long shot. This move on Netflix’s part is largely centered around Alfonso Curón’s black and white Spanish-language family drama ‘Roma’. Joel and Ethan Coen’s ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ will be another film that goes to theaters first.
Netflix has a number of other awards-hopefuls due out by the end of the year, which may also go the same release route. Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ is the first mob movie by the filmmaker starring Robert DeNiro since ‘Casino’ in the ’90s. There is also ‘The Laundromat’ starring Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas, directed by Steven Soderbergh, the Henry V historical drama, ‘The King’ directed by David Michod, with Timothée Chalamet in the starring role, and the Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway thriller ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ directed by Dee Rees, and co-starring Willem Dafoe.
Unfortunately, two releases that are believed to have had a shot at the big prizes– Paul Greengrass’ ’22 July’ and Tamara Jenkins’ ‘Private Life’– have already been released on Netflix, so they won’t benefit from this change.
At this time, it is believed that this release formula will only be applied to movies that the streaming service thinks has a shot at the big awards. Netflix is famously spending big bucks on “blockbuster”-type movies, like the Michael Bay/Ryan Reynolds action flick ‘6 Underground’ in hopes of drawing subscribers. It’s not likely that they will allow these releases to be viewed in any other capacity.
Scott Stuber, head of Netflix’s film division stated:
“These upcoming engagements are following the success of our theatrical and Netflix releases of ‘Private Life’ and ’22 July’. There’s been an overwhelming response to all of our films this festival season, including ‘Outlaw King’, which will be in theaters and on Netflix next week, and this plan is building on that momentum. Netflix’s priority is our members and our filmmakers, and we are constantly innovating to serve them. Our members benefit from having the best quality films from world class filmmakers and our filmmakers benefit by being able to share their artistry with the largest possible audience in over 190 countries worldwide.”