Theater Chains Continue to Cower in Response to Netflix Acquisitions

March 4, 2015
Source: Variety


"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.

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Either it's the end of theaters as we know them, or they're gonna have to get with the times. Who knows, maybe there will be a resurgence of independent movie theaters. That would be awesome.

TheOct8pus on Mar 4, 2015


Beast with No Distribution sorry, had to do it. Theater owners (and their conglomerate masters) need to get creative to bring in movie goers. Been coming to firstshowing for years and I'm always jealous when I hear blah blah at Alamo Drafthouse blah blah. There are no "alternative" theaters here, nobody with the guts (and financial backing) to give a us a reason to go to THEIR theater, not just watch a movie. Example A) my buddies and I loved to go to the dollar theater, despite having to wait to see a movie for months after initial release. We still went to see the "movies worth paying full price for" when they came out, but the cheap alternative gave us a chance to see movies we'd never RISK a lot of money on. B) Regal theaters introduced burgers, fries, boneless wings, etc a few years back (over here). Granted it's expensive, but GOOD FOOD. Not that vinegar excuse for nacho cheese and migrane inducing "butter" at Consolidated. It took months of me bitching to get friends to go the extra mile (35 min+, as opposed to 10min drive) but it took just one visit. And we still buy that expensive food, every time!

Akirakorn on Mar 4, 2015


I am curious about a movie site such as First Showing going on about how theaters cower in fear over Netflix and such releasing a film at home at the same time. I get this site is about movies, but I also thought it was about "going" to the movies, because you have a tab for trailers and a tab for theatrical release dates, but no tab for home video release dates. So what is the cost to a theater, chain or independent, to screen a movie? If the cost is more then they expect to bring in due to people staying home and watching it, then why show it? They will loose money (I know, they make it up at the snack stand, but not if people stay home). Also, these movies being announced on Netflix are not exactly Avengers or Avatar or Titanic type movies, are they.

theslayer5150 on Mar 4, 2015


Indeed, it is about going to the movies. Essentially my key point: it's absurd that we can't even see a film that we should be able to see on the big screen because they're afraid of losing business. They won't lose business because of this, they're losing business because of other reasons, like acting this way when they should just be showing the film. It doesn't matter if it's big or small, indie or foreign or Avengers, the cinematic experience will always be worth it if they make it worth it.

Alex Billington on Mar 5, 2015


Thanks, I do agree with your key point to be sure. I was just trying to think of a reason for not showing a film other than being childish about it, but perhaps that is all it is with these theaters.

theslayer5150 on Mar 5, 2015


If I was interested in seeing this movie and I had the option of seeing it at home or in a theater - I WOULD SEE IT IN A THEATER because SIZE MATTERS.

C.A. Hall on Mar 4, 2015


Or how bout I start going to the theaters when a movie ticket cost less then a large pizza?

movieguyryan . on Mar 5, 2015


I will still continue to go to films because the experience is still much better. At least here in Korea. Pick your own seat, fewer people on mobile phones...better popcorn...and matinee prices are about 6 bucks.

DAVIDPD on Mar 5, 2015


It doesn't matter to me anymore. All the movies I want to see rarely, if ever, end up in a theater near me. I'm tired of wanting to go to the theater and having to pick from a bunch of crap that doesn't interest me. I couldn't find Birdman playing near me but we can all go see Taken 500 or Fast and Furious 7000. I actually look forward to VOD releases because I finally get to see the movies I want. I miss going to the theater, but then I just look at what's playing and remind myself that I'm better off.

Ron on Mar 6, 2015

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