Christopher Nolan certainly has a reputation for cherishing the theatrical experience. After all, he nearly single-handedly saved the celluloid industry a few years ago when studios were about to go all-digital—Nolan banded together like-minded filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and Edgar Wright to lobby the film studios to maintain shooting on film as an option for directors. So it should come as little surprise that Nolan isn’t the biggest fan of Netflix’s distribution model for original films.
Netflix has emerged as a dominant force in the entertainment industry, and over the last few years has been spending all of the money expanding its library of original content. After launching Beasts of No Nation a couple of years ago, Netflix has now gotten serious about original films, but with a catch. They offer immense creative freedom, but refuse to send their movies to theaters prior to their release on the streaming service. Netflix has maintained that its subscribers would be “unhappy” if Netflix content was not available on the streaming service at the same time as it’s in theaters, and since theatrical exhibitors have a hard time justifying screens for movies that are readily available on the internet, the option to see films like Okja or War Machine in an actual movie theater is extremely limited.
Speaking with Indiewire, Nolan didn’t parse words in voicing his displeasure with this admittedly strange decision on Netflix’s part:
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films. They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation. So they’re not even getting in the game, and I think they’re missing a huge opportunity.”
Nolan points to Amazon as a streaming service doing it the right way, as they send their original films to theaters for at least a 90-day window before putting them up on the streaming service. This resulted in spectacular box office and two Oscars for Manchester by the Sea, so it’s not like the service is losing money or clout by sending their films to theaters beforehand.
But does Nolan at least find the creative freedom that Netflix is giving to filmmakers like Bong Joon Ho and Noah Baumbach admirable? Nope.
“I think the investment that Netflix is putting into interesting filmmakers and interesting projects would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters,” he said. “It’s so pointless. I don’t really get it.”
Nolan is 100% correct here. It’s insane to me that Netflix refuses to allow its movies to be seen in theaters before they’re put on the streaming service. You get the option of paying a little extra to see it early and in a theater, or waiting until it comes onto the streaming service for which you’ve already subscribed. You still get the content.
I’m happy that Netflix is financing Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, but it’s a shame that 99% of people are going to be watching that film on their TV or laptop. The theater is still the ideal viewing experience for feature films, so why is Netflix working so hard to push against it? I suppose because their business model is built on people consuming their content from the comfort of their own living room, but it’s still disappointing.
So yeah, don’t expect to see a Christopher Nolan original film pop up on Netflix anytime soon.