What is the future of film? How close are we to an age where only very specific movies hit theaters? How closer are we to a world with a film industry that thrives exclusively on home sales? For years, the industry has fought against the oppressive forces that are piracy and the home release market. It’s easy enough to get an HD copy of virtually any film in theaters now, so the goal from most studios is to give audiences a reason to make the venture out of their homes, thus the rise of 3D and IMAX films.
Working against them are pirates who don’t care about getting that theater experience, as well as the home theater industry. With giant 60-80-inch HD screens now being sold at a relatively accessible price (along with stellar surround sound systems). Also working against them are services like Netflix. Netflix has made their mark on the television world already, and in 2017, they seem ready to start shaking things up on the film front.
Like with their TV shows, Netflix is looking to post their new films to their streaming service, and if their TV slate is anywhere near indicative of the quality of movies we’ll be getting, audiences will seemingly have less of a reason to head out to the theaters — especially as the budgets for these Netflix shows get bigger. At least, that’s what I initially thought. However, a new report from Variety has me second guessing how much of an impact Netflix will make in that department.
According to the outlet, one of their upcoming films, Okja, a fantasy film from Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho, will be getting a limited day-and-date release in theaters in the United States and South Korea.
Of course, my big question, as indicated by the title of this piece is, “why?” Why make a theatrical release when audiences will be able to log right on to the Netflix accounts and see the film at no extra cost? To my understanding, the whole point in bankrolling all these original productions is to incentivize consumers to actually subscribe to their service. If it simply becomes commonplace for Netflix to actually have theatrical releases from their films, is this something that could negatively affect their bottom line down the line?
There are a few potential reasons that come to mind. First, perhaps in having a theatrical release they’re hoping to get more publicity, and therefore more subscribers than if they were just to quietly drop it onto the streaming service. Perhaps they’re just experimenting to see if having a dual release will ultimately lead to them being able to make some extra side cash from the box office, in addition to a potential increase in subscribers.
More importantly, however, this has me wondering if shareholders are getting antsy. Keep in mind, this is mostly speculation, but it’s a bit of speculation worth exploring. While the shows on Netflix are all sorts of great, it has to be rough on some shareholders that they keep so much secrets. Netflix is dumping billions of dollars into their original content, and the only one who knows of any specific analytics is Netflix themselves. Perhaps in veering their strategy to limited day-and-date releases, they’ll be able to have some solid numbers to show investors without having to show their whole hand.
Or, perhaps this whole deal is just a way to gain credibility with the market. At the end of the day, many folks still see theatrical releases as “better movies” than indie ones, so it may just be a matter of trying to convince the general public that, yes, these are in fact real films. It has been a goal for a while to see these films up on the big screen, but I don't see much of a point.
All in all, from my perspective, it seems like an odd step backwards for the streaming company. In doing what they do, they effectively disrupted the status quo in a big way, and in showing their films in theaters, it almost seems like they’re waffling on their strategy. Of course, as mentioned above, much of this is speculation. At the end of the day, this is a single movie with a very limited release, but it’s not like it’s unheard of for a company to get pressured into making shortsighted decisions. It’s worth pointing out that Netflix is nearing 100 million subscribers, so they may very well be looking for that extra bit of something that puts them over the edge.
What do you think of this news of Okja hitting theaters? Do you think Netflix will continue to make a habit of theatrically releasing their movies? If so, is it a good move for Netflix and the industry? Let us know your thoughts down below!