Netflix angers movie theaters with 'Beasts of No Nation'

Netflix angers movie theaters with 'Beasts of No Nation'

Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation" (Photo:

This past weekend, Netflix released its new feature film "Beasts of No Nation." Written and directed by "True Detective" season one director Cary Fukunaga, it tells the story of a child soldier, played by Abraham Attah, who is swept into an unnamed African conflict, under the command of the commandant, played by Idris Elba. The film is receiving great reviews and currently has a 90 percent on aggregate rating site rotten tomatoes. This is a stellar movie that is deserving of attention, however, most of its media buzz is stemming from controversy over its unique distribution strategy.

There tend to be two major models for film releases. The first includes direct to DVD and streaming services that provide immediate access to content, and the second model is the traditional theater release. Generally, when a film takes the second route, they give a minimum 90 day period before release to a streaming service or video. The more profitable a movie is at the box office, the longer it will stay in theaters, but this minimum ensures that theaters have a chance to profit before having to compete with another market.

"Beasts of No Nation" is causing controversy because it was released by Netflix both online and in theaters on Friday, Oct 16. This break from standard practice has theaters upset: AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike have all decided to boycott the film.

Their reaction makes sense. Why would they dedicate screening rooms, staff and other resources to showing a film that people can see at home for no extra charge? This single film is unlikely to put a dent into anyone's overall business. Theaters bank on large blockbuster films like "Jurassic World," which brought in $1.5 billion this summer, to make their profit. Small indie films are a drop in the bucket comparatively. In fact, it likely won't even bring Netflix any new subscribers. More than anything, this distribution strategy is causing an uproar because of its perceived disrespect for traditional methods, and the precedent that it sets for potential future releases.

From the perspective of the filmmakers, the Netflix deal is a hard offer to pass up. "Beasts of No Nation" went over budget with a production cost of $6 million and was purchased by Netflix for $12 million. Right off the bat, the producers get a full return on their investment, along with a nice profit. In addition, Netflix also took on all the costs and responsibilities for distributing and marketing the film.

Small, independent productions such as "Beasts of No Nation" have little to no marketing budget and rely primarily on word of mouth and awards to carry DVD and download sales to turn a profit. It can be hard to predict which films will be able to make it into the limelight, so Netflix's offer to take those costs upon itself, and make it available to nearly 70 million subscribers, is a huge weight off the film's shoulders.

It makes sense why producers chose to take Netflix's offer, but why would they choose to release both digitally and in theaters? Some speculate that they may be shooting for an award. To qualify for a nomination, a film must play in theaters, and there may be hope that Idris Elba could snag one for best supporting actor. On top of that, "Beasts of No Nation" offers Netflix the chance to branch out in an industry where it is already a pioneer.

Since its inception, Netflix has been known to buck off traditional distribution methods and move in new directions. From DVD delivery, streaming services and original content, the company has consistently changed the game in home entertainment. Does their latest move warrant the backlash they are getting from theaters? I don't think so. However, it will be interesting to follow this experiment in the months to come and see how it plays out. In the meantime, "Beasts of No Nation" is currently available in a handful of specialty theaters and in the homes of over 69 million Netflix subscribers.

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