I’ve always been an avid cinephile, a lover of the entire moviegoing experience. Ever since I was a child, I’ve made a habit of seeing at least one new movie per week in a cinema.
But over the past few years ticket prices have skyrocketed, audience members have become more annoying and quality films have been pushed aside in favour of mega-budgeted nonsense. The act of going to an actual theatre has started to lose a lot of its lustre for me.
As we move toward an era where franchises and special effects films dominate the local multiplex, the idea of staying home to watch smaller, character-driven films is becoming more and more appealing.
While the release of new films via the video on demand model has been around for some time, there’s always been a low-budget stigma attached to it that would suggest these movies would’ve gone straight to video anyway.
Thankfully, the simultaneous theatrical and streaming release of Netflix’s first original film, Beasts of No Nation – plus several other films soon to be released – are causing that notion to evaporate.
Better than previous VOD attempts
One of the things that has held concurrent theatrical/VOD releases back in the past (aside from the D-grade movies generally on offer) is that they’ve always carried a price of admission.
One exception to this rule is last year’s VOD release of the Seth Rogen and James Franco-starring film, The Interview, which brought in US$31 million in VOD sales alone (though the film was forced into that situation after it supposedly inspired the notorious Sony Pictures hacking last November).
While the figure listed above is impressive compared to the VOD releases that have come before it, it’s considerably less money than it would’ve made had the film received a traditional theatrical release.
With Beasts of No Nation, Netflix has removed the price obstacle entirely, making the film available to the service’s 69 million subscribers worldwide at no additional cost.
Now that the audience’s barrier for entry has been removed, the only thing stopping Netflix subscribers from watching Beasts of No Nation is disinterest.
Admittedly, this release model makes it difficult to quantify the success of Netflix’s film, as there isn’t really a box-office style number that can be attributed to it.
The question is: does that really matter? As long as Netflix uses these films to attract new subscribers and keep the ones it already had, it will keep making money, and its original movies will be carried by the platform’s overall success.
Netflix knows that the future of cinema is moving in this direction, and investing heavily in it now will allow it to be the service that sets the standard for the next hundred years.
A night in at the movies
No matter how good the seats are at your local cinema, nothing beats the comfort of your own lounge room.
If you want to watch a movie in your pyjamas without looking like a weirdo, you can. If you want to eat something that isn’t ridiculously over-priced junk, you can do that, too. If you need to go to the bathroom, you can pause and not miss a thing. You can even talk and use your phone without bothering anybody.
Aside from the extra comfort and freedom afforded to you at home, you’re also free from obnoxious audience members who threaten your enjoyment of a film, whether it be parents who bring screaming infants to horror films, people who loudly rustle chip packets for minutes on end, giant-headed jerks that sit right in front of you, texters, talkers, inappropriate laughers (that’s a thing, I assure you) and even loud breathers.
Technical difficulties aside, the main thing that can ruin your chances of enjoying a new release movie in a theatre is other people, so why not remove the audience from the equation?
Sure enough, there’s nothing better than seeing a big, crowd-pleasing film with a large audience that’s just as enthusiastic as you are, but that isn’t always the case, just as every film you watch is not an event film that demands the biggest screen possible.
Filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently predicted an ‘implosion’ of the film industry in which fewer movies are released in theatres, but have longer Broadway-style runs that last up to a year and carry a premium ticket price, while smaller films are released either on-demand or in limited runs with smaller ticket prices – Spielberg even mentioned that his award-winning film Lincoln came remarkably close to being released on HBO.
When you consider that quality films like Beasts of No Nation are now being delivered directly to homes on release, and long-form, movie-quality TV dramas like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Daredevil have changed people’s perceptions of the kinds of stories that work well on a smaller screen, Spielberg and Lucas just might be onto something.
Coming soon to a TV screen near you
Though it was not created specifically for the streaming market, Netflix’s purchase and release of Beasts of No Nation has kicked off a trend which has forced the On-Demand practice out of infancy and into its adolescence.
Rival service Amazon Prime recently acquired Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s next film, The Neon Demon, which will initially release in theatres followed closely by a streaming release on Amazon Prime Instant Video, as well as Spike Lee’s latest joint, Chi-Raq, which will arrive on the SVOD service sometime in December.
Netflix already has several films in post-production and nearing release, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, which is from the team responsible for Netflix’s series, Marco Polo, and the upcoming Adam Sandler western comedy, The Ridiculous 6.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend will release simultaneously in theatres (including IMAX) and on Netflix, something that has angered the AMC, Regal and Cinemark theatre chains in the United States, with all three companies having already announced boycotts of the film.
Netflix has also dropped $60 million into its upcoming satirical war film, War Machine, which stars Brad Pitt and is directed by David Michôd of Animal Kingdom fame, and has also invested $50 million into the next film from Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho, Okja, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
With the level of talent behind and in front of the cameras on each of these announced films (well, maybe excluding the Adam Sandler one), it’s clear that On-Demand is moving out of the D-grade ghetto and is concentrating on delivering pedigree entertainment that isn’t reliant on spectacle.
Though I’ll definitely continue to watch big event films in the theatre for the foreseeable future, I’m also certain that I’ll quickly get used to making my living room my preferred destination for just about everything else.