Netflix may have been first to the original movie game with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny, but Amazon Studios has lapped its streaming sibling in the race for mainstream cinema respectability. First, Amazon got five of its original films, including The Neon Demon and The Handmaiden, into last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and then outshone Netflix at the Oscars with high-profile wins for Manchester By The Sea back in February. (Netflix scored its first Oscar for the documentary short The White Helmets, but has never won an Oscar for a feature film.) Netflix is catching up on the former this year with two films, Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, in competition at Cannes. But if it wants to romance awards voters, it’s going to have to change its release strategy—a move the company inches towards in a recent statement to shareholders.
It’s worth noting that Amazon Studios has played nice with exhibitors in terms of the traditional theatrical release window (currently hovering at about four months) by releasing its movies on Amazon Prime long after they first debut in theaters. Netflix, meanwhile, has stuck by its day-and-date strategy, which debuts movies in theaters on the same day they hit Netflix and annoys movie theater owners to no end. The company re-stated this intention in its quarterly shareholder statement, saying it was “open” to screening the upcoming Bright at major movie theater chains:
Since our members are funding these films, they should be the first to see them. But we are also open to supporting the large theater chains, such as AMC and Regal in the US, if they want to offer our films, such as our upcoming Will Smith film Bright, in theatres simultaneous to Netflix. Let consumers choose.
Outside of the illusion of infinite possibility offered by those “freestyle” soda machines, letting consumers choose has never really been a top priority for movie theater chains. So while Netflix does seem to be conceding the importance of putting its original movies in theaters in order to raise their awards-season profiles, it’s still not going to make exhibitors happy by insisting on tampering with their precious release windows. Given all that, the question becomes one of who needs who more.
With high-profile projects like the aforementioned Bright—directed by Suicide Squad’s David Ayer and co-starring Noomi Rapace and Joel Edgerton—as well as Brad Pitt’s War Machine and Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s The Irishman on its release calendar, the advantage would seem to be Netflix’s. But, to update the old hypothetical, if a Martin Scorsese movie drops on Netflix and it gets buried under half a billion hours of Adam Sandler, will it still get Oscar buzz?