Some major news broke yesterday, but it has nothing to do with superhero movies or blockbuster franchises—it has to do with the future of the movie theater business as we know it. After bursting onto the scene with Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre, filmmaker Cary Fukunaga became even more in demand after helming the truly phenomenal True Detective for HBO. He fielded a bunch of offers in the wake of its success, but he opted to stick to a passion project that he’d been wanting to make for years: Beasts of No Nation.
The film, which stars Idris Elba and revolves around a child soldier fighting in a civil war in Africa, was produced independently, but given its pedigree all eyes were on which studio would be shepherding the film through release. A number of suitors emerged with hopes of awards prospects, including Focus Features and Fox Searchlight, but in the end Netflix came away the victor, paying somewhere around $12 million to land distribution rights.
This unprecedented move will see Netflix giving the film a limited release in select theaters later this year on the same day that the movie premieres on the streaming service worldwide. When the news first broke I was curious to see how the theater chains would react, and today we have our answer: “not well.”
Variety reports that AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Carmike—the four largest exhibitors in the country—have no plans to show Beasts of No Nation when it is released this year. They’re miffed that Netflix is not abiding by the general rule of waiting 90 days between theatrical release and home entertainment release, and so they’re boycotting the drama altogether.
This isn’t an entirely surprising move, as theater chains acted similarly when Netflix and The Weinstein Company announced plan to release the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel simultaneously on Netflix and in IMAX theaters. The theater chains fear the changing moviegoing landscape, and for some reason think that by refusing to show a movie that will no doubt be devoured by people on Netflix, they’re “sticking it” to ‘em.
It appears that Beasts of No Nation’s theatrical release will largely take place in independent theaters (reportedly somewhere between 200-250 in total), with Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League saying he plans to show the film despite its online release. As someone who loves movies and who loves seeing those movies up on a big screen rather than on a television, I’m bummed that the major theater chains intend to deny that experience to a large amount of moviegoers.
But the Beasts of No Nation release will be groundbreaking in a different way as well. This looks to be the first “prestige picture” in an awards hunt that’s essentially going VOD day-and-date. Most arthouse films find success in platform releases that see them slowly rolled out into more and more theaters week-after-week, building off of strong reviews and sometimes extending this process for months on end. When it comes time to make sure critics groups and awards voting bodies to see the film, the studios then rely on DVD screeners that they send directly to voters.
In the case of Beasts of No Nation, however, the film will be readily available to anyone who has a Netflix account (ie. everyone), so I’m incredibly curious to see how that impacts its awards chances. Will the lack of a major box office presence hurt the movie’s profile, or will its wide availability allow it to be seen by even more voters than previously possible? Obviously it’s too early to be making any kind of predictions, but from a pure case study point of view, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this unfolds.
We don’t yet know when Netflix plans on releasing Beasts of No Nation, but given that they’ve made it clear they’ll be giving it an awards push, I imagine we won’t see it until sometime this fall. Until then, I’ll be interested to see what other feathers Netflix intends to ruffle. Times they are a changin’.