When Netflix Met Cinemark... And Nothing Happened
So news today, on May The 4th Be (fill in your favorite), that Cinemark and a bunch of the smaller chains will unite for a 600-screen run for Zack Snyder's latest masterwork, Army of the Dead, opening in 17 days.
There are a lot of ways to look at this.
Of course, the expected "they said it, it must be true" writers are positioning it as some sort of "come to Jesus" moment for exhibition. Wrong. For the millionth time... Wrong!
I was kinda hoping they would be right, though I would come at it from the other side. I believe that Netflix will look to theatrical as a revenue stream before the half-decade is up. And I was hoping, from the headline, that this might be a start in that direction. But it isn't that either.
It's a one-week booking between Those Who Wish Me Dead/Spiral and Cruella/A Quiet Place II. (Speaking of which, when is Paramount going to start spending into this release? Or are they hoping it will fail at the box office and be better Par+ bait? Don't get it.)
All that really tells us is that Netflix doesn't know what the Academy rules will be next season, that Visionary Zack thinks he can get nominated for something (and Netflix probably agrees about effects or sound or something), and that this way, the week before opening (yet another configuration of distribution fucking up exhibition for no real reason), they will be qualified for Oscar like in a normal year. And if they are going to do it, why not take a commercial-feeling movie out for a test drive?
Here's the punchline. Until the weekly domestic box office is over $75 million a weekend, there will be experiments by distribution that are readily accepted by exhibition. Nothing is The New Normal. (And if you really think it is, consider... What is that new normal? Which system? Because no two of the major distributors are operating under the same idea right now.)
And here is the reality about Netflix and theatrical... The sticking point isn't resistance from exhibition. The sticking point is that Exhibition doesn't want to give up valuable screens if Netflix isn't going to sell their movies for exhibition at a level that rivals the major theatrical distributors. Exhibition would sign off on short-ish windows, Netflix would give up a larger hunk of revenues (if not 100%, as they try it out, trying to please filmmakers), exhibition would allow Netflix not to have their box office reported (at least until the majors pull out the knives), and Netflix would spend on marketing... Just not in the traditional way.
There will come a day when Netflix is $150 million+ into a big movie and believes in the film enough to think that it could deliver over $600 million in worldwide theatrical, and they will take a long, hard breath and get serious about negotiations. Of course, a movie that will make that much would want at least four weekends to run before it became the most- promoted Netflix exclusive ever.
Theatrical will have to be stabilized for a while and Netflix would actually have to believe in an in-house movie enough to make such a choice.
It sure wasn't The Old Guard. They might love that movie, but Charlize, at best, is a $400 million worldwide bet. Would they love to have $200 million payback and then a huge draw on the stream? Sure. But too much of gamble. Too much building a franchise when they aren't set up for that business. Not enough to break their own branded glass ceiling.
God bless Netflix. But the most important movie in May remains Cruella, whatever the outcome. Army of the Dead could do $20 million domestic. There is a hardcore army for Snyder. But Netflix doesn't care about that chump change, kicking back maybe $8 million to the company. Zzzzz...
It makes perfect sense that the story hasn't even hit PenskeTradeLand, aside from the IndieWire hit by a freelancer. Nothing to see here, really.