Netflix has been wrestling with the film industry since it killed Blockbuster, and those struggles have only become more intense since the service began producing its own television shows and films. When it comes to screening its original films in theaters, Netflix has historically said that its projects have to be released simultaneously on its platform. That hasn’t played well with members of the film industry establishment, including theater chains and industry insiders. (Things came to a head earlier this year when Netflix, after being barred from competition in the Cannes Film Festival, exited the festival entirely.) This week, Netflix appears to have reversed its formerly ironclad policy: three of its upcoming releases — the Alfonso Cuarón-directed Roma, the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box — will be released in theaters before they hit Netflix’s streaming offerings, Deadline reports.
Roma will be released in “exclusive limited theatrical engagements” on November 21st in New York, LA, and Mexico; it hits Netflix on December 14th. The Ballad of Buster Scruggswill have its theatrical release in LA, New York, San Francisco, and London on November 8th, and it will appear on Netflix eight days later. Bird Box plays in the same places starting on December 13th, and it will arrive on Netflix on December 21st.
The move is surprising not only because it reverses years of policy, but also because of what it signals for the platform’s ambitions. As Deadline put it, “Netflix is selectively evolving its streaming-first model in hopes that Oscar voter traditionalists won’t discount quality films because they were given limited theatrical releases as they simultaneously released on the streaming service.” The trade publication also reports that Roma is partially the reason, since it left festival season “as a potential front-runner in many categories including Best Picture.” (Theatrical releases are generally required to be in contention for film’s biggest awards.)
Netflix has other, similarly ambitious pictures currently in the works; the biggest is probably Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Irishman, which stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Anna Paquin, among other huge names, and it’s set for release in 2019. Netflix’s shift in strategy is telling for what it reveals about the platform’s industry ambitions: it’s gunning for Best Picture.