There's one big reason Netflix wants to release movies in theaters

March 25, 2019 – 09:11 pm

beasts of no nation netflix focus featuresNetflixNetflix’s first foray into movie-making will be tested this Sunday when “Beasts of No Nation, ” its first narrative film, screens at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Netflix paid a hefty $12 million to acquire the film, which stars Idris Elba as a blood-soaked African warlord.

This screening, and the small 29-theater release that will follow it, are noteworthy because they allow “Beasts of No Nation” to qualify for the Academy Awards — something that would not be possible with just an online release.

What’s less clear is whether Netflix actually has a long-term commitment to the idea of a movie theater, or whether it's simply playing by the Academy's rules to snag a few Oscar nominations.

Netflix, for its part, has never said it wants to destroy the theater system.

“I feel like it’s incumbent on us to make and distribute movies that are so good that theater owners will want to book them, ” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told Variety. There’s deference in that statement, a push to portray Netflix as slighted by theater giants like Regal, who have so far refused to carry “Beasts of No Nation.”

But of course, these theater companies see Netflix as an existential threat to their business model. That's because, by all indications, Netflix simply doesn’t care all that much about them. “There’s no theatrical revenue expectation in our business model on any movie, ” Sarandos went on to explain to Variety.

So if Netflix doesn't care about revenue from theatrical releases, what's the importance of movie theaters?

One answer might simply be the Oscars. “Pulp Fiction” producer Michael Shamberg told Bloomberg that a theatrical release makes him take “Beasts of No Nation” more seriously. “Knowing that the movie is playing in Toronto, knowing it’ll be in a theater, makes me view it differently.” Shamberg will be one of those voting at Oscar time.


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