Brow Beat

Netflix Is Giving Its Award Contenders (Very Short) Exclusive Theatrical Runs

Ted Sarandos, Alfonso Cuarón, and Scott Stuber on a red carpet.
Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, director Alfonso Cuarón and Netflix producer Scott Stuber attend the UK Premiere of Roma in London.
John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

Netflix will give some of its films limited exclusive theatrical runs before they show up on the service’s streaming site, Deadline reports. The move is an attempt to boost chances for upcoming awards-season contenders, and so far, it applies to Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box.

This is a change from the day-and-date release model Netflix pioneered back in 2015 with Beasts of No Nation, their first original non-documentary feature. That film, like the Netflix theatrical releases that followed it, opened in a limited theatrical run on the same day it appeared on the streaming service. Netflix’s refusal to observe the traditional 90-day window between theatrical and home release meant that big theater chains like AMC and Regal refuse to carry their films, and the limited exclusive runs for their upcoming films is unlikely to change that: Roma, which is getting Best Picture buzz, will be in theaters in Los Angeles, New York, and Mexico on Nov. 21, a little more than three weeks before its Dec. 14 release on the streaming service. The other two films have shorter periods of exclusivity: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will hit theaters on Nov. 8 and on Netflix on Nov. 16, while Bird Box will open on Dec. 13 and hit Netflix on Dec. 21, giving each only an eight-day window. The films will play in independent chains like Landmark and IFC,

Roma seems to be getting the closest thing to a traditional platformed release, with an expansion to major theatrical markets already planned during its release window. Director Cuaron’s statement walks a fine line between praising Netflix for making his movie easily available, and explaining that he made the movie with technology that can’t be duplicated in a home viewing experience:

Seeing Roma on the big screen is just as important as ensuring people all over the world have the chance to experience it in their homes. … Roma was photographed in expansive 65mm, complemented by a very complex Atmos sound mix. While a movie theater offers the best possible experience for Roma, it was designed to be equally meaningful when experienced in the intimacy of one’s home.

That tension between “best possible” and “equally meaningful” will have to be resolved somehow, especially since 70mm presentations of Roma are planned. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Bird Box are both starting off in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London and will have expanded theatrical releases once they hit Netflix. The move definitely seems more like a sop to Oscar voters than an ongoing commitment to the theatrical experience, but for people who prefer seeing movies in movie theaters (who are lucky enough to live in a major market) it’s a step in the right direction, especially with Netflix poised to release new movies from both Martin Scorsese and Stephen Soderbergh in 2019. To say nothing of the highly-anticipated sequel to Bright.