Netflix is coming to a theater near you Friday with the release of the heady thriller “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba, but major theater chains are closing their doors in protest. AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike have followed through on threats not to screen the movie because Netflix plans to both stream it online and show it in 31 smaller theaters across the country.
The film, written and directed by Cary Fukunaga of “True Detective” fame, premiered last week at the London Film Festival to generally positive reviews from the New York Times, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
But the major chains are pointing to the traditional 90-day “window” that separates theatrical and home or on-demand releases, a system increasingly under pressure with the rise of video-on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video.
The independent theater chain Alamo Drafthouse told Variety in March that it would show the film, with CEO Tim League arguing there need not be friction between theaters and the streaming giant.
But why might Netflix, one of the most obvious culprits yanking moviegoers away from theaters and DVDs, be interested in a debut on the big screen?
The most likely answer is that the company wants a little gold statue. Hyping "Beasts" in a press release as “a powerful film that unfolds beautifully,” Netflix needs to push the flick in theaters in order to qualify for an Oscar.
According to the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: “Films that in any version, receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release will not be eligible for Academy Awards in any category.”
The guidelines note that nontheatrical releases include “Internet transmission.”
Netflix, which acquired the right to “Beasts” for $12 million, earned its first Oscar nomination for “The Square,” a 2014 documentary on the Egyptian revolution. Another documentary, “Virunga,” was nominated in 2015. Both were released “day-and-date,” where a film becomes available in theaters and on demand at the same time.
The company touted both the film’s artistic promise and its distribution model earlier this year in a press release, congratulating its partners at Red Crown Productions, which produced the film.
“To know that this harrowing and beautiful movie is going to reach the more than 50 million people within Netflix’s reach is beyond our wildest dreams,” said Daniela Taplin Lundberg, a co-founder of Red Crown. “The Netflix team is bold and has the same pioneering spirit about distribution that I like to think we had about making the film in the jungles of Ghana. We could not be happier about this partnership.”