Roma Theatrical Release

Alfonso Cuaron‘s acclaimed drama Roma is doing more than shaking up the Oscar race, it’s potentially shaking up Netflix’s entire approach to exclusive theatrical releases. After making a hard stance on day-and-date releases, Netflix finally conceded this year by granting its Oscar darling Roma a three-week theatrical release ahead of its streaming debut, alongside two other Oscar contenders, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Bird Box.

But the question remained: Would this be a one-time thing to help Netflix score a much-coveted Oscar? Or could Roma‘s potential success change the business model for Netflix theatrical releases as we know it? The latter is entirely possible, as behind-the-scenes at Netflix, filmmakers are already reportedly jostling for “the Cuaron treatment.”

The Hollywood Reporter released an extensive report on the changing attitudes toward theatrical vs. streaming at Netflix following the streaming service’s game-changing decision to release Roma in theaters three weeks before its streaming debut.

The report describes an industry excited for potential new opportunities for Netflix films backed by major talents to make it to theaters, if skeptical that this will be no more than a one-time “token” course correction designed to woo Oscar voters. “Most directors ultimately want theatrical releases for their movies,” a top agent told THR, which wrote:

But in cracking the window open, Netflix now risks similar demands by other top filmmakers who are accustomed to the glory of a big-screen splash. Already, at least one top talent agency is referring to Netflix’s Roma move as the “Cuaron treatment,” as in, “My client needs the Cuaron treatment.” And A-list filmmakers who have been paid premium prices to make movies at Netflix with the concession of no theatrical exclusivity — including Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Steven Soderbergh and Michael Bay — are reconsidering.

But while agents are excited about the theatrical prospects for filmmakers, theater owners largely remain unflappable. That’s due to Netflix’s infamous lack of transparency for their numbers both in streaming and in box office grosses. After Beasts of No Nation flopped in 2015, Netflix stopped reporting grosses, which has helped convince theater owners that this move is “little more than a token,” said National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian, who added that if Netflix is serious about the cinema experience, it would follow Amazon and offer a longer theatrical run. “If you hide your numbers, your movies don’t get any profile. That’s what a proper cinema run does — establish the run of the product,” a rival studio executive told THR.

“The issue comes down to the exclusive window,” Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi told investors the day after Netflix’s big Roma theatrica announcement, adding, “As it currently stands with a one- or two-week window, I don’t anticipate that we would be playing the Netflix films.”

Without theater chains on board, Netflix would likely have difficulty in giving more of its films exclusive theatrical releases. The service currently “four-walls,” or rents, theater screens, which is a decidedly expensive business and not something that Netflix could maintain in the long term. And it still yet to be seen whether Netflix’s grand experiment to test the waters in exclusive theatrical releases with Roma, the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, will pay off. We’ll have to see once Roma hits theaters on November 21, 2018.

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