Theater Chains Continue to Cower in Response to Netflix Acquisitions
"It could be a game changer," but they're afraid of it. Here we go again with movie theater chains. Earlier this week Netflix announced they're acquiring and distributing the new film Beasts with No Nation, a feature from Cary Fukunaga starring Idris Elba as the commander of a group of guerrilla fighters in Africa. Despite Netflix starting out as a DVD company, they've grown considerably. Beasts with No Nation will not only be released on the Netflix platform, but it will be released in theaters by the company, with a "vigorous push in Oscar season." Their release strategy of going to theaters and VOD at the same time still scares some movie theater owners, and the big chains have backed out of releasing this film altogether. Ugh.
Barely 24 hours after Netflix made the announcement, Variety reports that a number of major movie theater chains have confirmed they're not going to be showing the film. AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike have "separately" told them they will not show the film because "they do not want to provide screens to films that do not honor what is typically a 90-day delay between a theatrical debut and a home entertainment release." This is the same excuse, the same thing as they've always been saying, and they're resistant to any change. No matter what, if anyone tries anything, they cower in fear and pull the "we won't show your film <harrumph>" card. No matter the quality of the film or customer demand for it, they just won't release it.
It's ridiculous they still respond this way in 2015, but thankfully the voice of reason is Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse chain. League told Variety, "I look at films I want to play and I play them regardless of the release strategy." Exactly. The same philosophy we wish all theater owners had, but alas they're picky about this kind of strategy. And for Beasts of No Nation, it doesn't make sense. They're saying "no" before the film has even played, before anyone has a chance to say "I want to see that", before we even know if it'll get awards. League points out Snowpiercer, a film that did fine in theaters and on VOD. The good news is that at least Beasts of No Nation will still play in "roughly 200 to 250 arthouse and independent theaters."
"I don't look at myself as a competitor to Netflix," said [Alamo Drafthouse's Tim] League. "I think that argument is a little bit of a red herring. I watch a lot of movies at home, but there comes a time where I want to get out of the house. I look at cinemas as one of those options that compete with restaurants or baseball games or all of those things I can’t do in my living room."
That quote from Tim League above sums it up. It's really not about the home vs. theater strategy anymore, playing that card of "we're just not going to show it" is ineffective. It's such a childish way to respond to an innovative new distributor betting on a film they believe in. Just because Netflix is distributing a film, they don't want to release it? Even the producers understand it's a pain to deal with, but they also get just how much things have changed. "This movie will have the muscle of Netflix behind it," said Amy Kaufman, a producer on the film. "It will definitely be seen by a lot more and different kinds of people through Netflix than it would have through a traditional platform." Netflix also just released the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga in a similar way, and although it didn't win any Oscars, it's still doing pretty well.
As much as we should just ignore this random bit of news, forget these movie theater chains are acting this way, and support the film's release in art house theaters instead (which we still will do), I couldn't help but say something. It's getting annoying hearing major chains react this way anytime a film even gets acquired. These companies are cowering in fear that they're going to lose business just because Netflix is releasing an art house film, when really they should be afraid of losing business because they're not evolving any more. They're not caring about customers and what they want and how the experience can be improved. Work on that, and maybe there won't be so much tension. But don't shut out the art you're supposed to be exhibiting.
In the meantime, there's nothing to be afraid of with Netflix. As Tim said, "I watch a lot of movies at home, but there comes a time where I want to get out of the house." Cinemas, the very best ones, will always exist.