Last November, it was reported that Martin Scorsese sought a guarantee from Netflix that his upcoming highly-hyped gangster film The Irishman—whose budget has skyrocketed to a reported $145 million—will receive a theatrical run in 2019. A classic filmmaker through and through, Scorsese reportedly wanted audiences to be able to experience the film in the traditional way.
This is important because it speaks to just how much of a disruptor the online streamer cares to be. Dismantling the old guard of entertainment is an ambitious and lucrative goal, but at what cost? The last thing the streamer wants to do is alienate A-list talent, even as it continues to embark on its world-eating conquest. In order to attain the prestigious validation that Netflix seeks (i.e. Academy Awards), it’s going to have to play in the same sandbox as its competitors.
Which brings us to today’s word from The Hollywood Reporter that suggests the streamer is considering an expansion of its theatrical runs beyond the minimum two weeks it takes to qualify for Oscars consideration. The shift in strategy comes as Netflix recently hired awards guru Lisa Taback and, in addition to Scorsese’s The Irishman, has Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and Paul Greengrass’ 22 July on the horizon.
Curaon’s 3D-heavy 2013 feature Gravity earned him a Best Director statue at the Oscars, and Greengrass’ Bourne franchise delivers big screen blockbuster action. Both filmmakers are said to be pushing for theatrical releases that serve as more than just lip service even as Netflix still plans to release the pictures day-and-date in theaters and on the streamer. Acquiescing to their preferences could very well lead Netflix to doing the same for other notable filmmakers moving forward.
Per the outlet, Cuaron filmed Roma, a black-and-white Spanish language feature—with a “high-end digital camera best suited for premium large-format or 70mm screens equipped with Dolby Atmos sound.” I love the convenience and ease of Netflix and Chill as much as the next subscriber, but the viewing experience from one’s couch pales in comparison to the technical wizardy of a marquee theater.
However, as long as Netflix holds firm to its day-and-date premiere strategy, top-notch theaters may continue to push back. In 2015, major exhibitors boycotted the Idris Elba-led Beasts of No Nation due to this, and the Cannes Film Festival actually banned the streamer from competition this year. Procuring the type of prestige rollouts these directors may have in mind may simply not be possible as things currently stand.
To alter its premiere plans away from day-and-date release would undercut Netflix’s business model but likely help its quest for Academy Awards, a balance the streamer is currently attempting to manage.
“Even though a director may want his film in a theater,” Wall Street analyst Eric Handler told THR, “that is the cost of doing business with Netflix.”
Netflix has long lusted after Oscars gold, coming closest with last year’s Mudbound, which notched four nominations but went home empty handed. Conversely, Amazon Studios has worked out a deal with theaters in which their films will not hit its streaming platform until after a lengthy theatrical run. In 2016, the studio’s Manchester by the Sea became one of the best reviewed films of the year, earning six total nominations and winning two (Best Performance by a Leading Actor and Best Original Screenplay). However, that momentum slipped a bit following an underwhelming 2017 slate outside of The Big Sick.
“The theaters are big proponents of windowing,” says Handler. “If they allow Netflix to do day and date, that could open the floodgates for others.”
It’s unlikely that Netflix will move away from its streaming-first approach when it comes to original films, even for high-profile directors. But it will be interesting to see how that affects the studio’s ability to attract big names and compete for Hollywood’s most sought-after honors.