For the first time since the invention of made-for-television movies in the 1960s, a new option for major feature films with A-list stars and leading directors is becoming legitimate. Netflix, a video streaming service in the U.S. and several other countries, has become a “global disruptor” by changing the way people think about entertainment. Netflix is now changing the way movies are released by not only accelerating release time, but by also producing and releasing original movies, bypassing traditional movie-theaters altogether. The latest example of Netflix’s vision includes a groundbreaking deal with Angelina Jolie to release her upcoming movie, “First They Killed My Father,” based on a Cambodian family’s survival of the “killing fields” of the Khmer Rouge regime.
This latest agreement with Jolie follows some other high profile Netflix deals including its acquisition of the distributions to “War Machine,” a satirical comedy starring Brad Pitt. Netflix will invest about $30 million to make War Machine and will invest even more to make First They Killed My Father. Jolie said in a statement that “[f]ilms like this are hard to watch but important to see. They are also hard to get made. Netflix is making this possible and [she] is looking forward to working with them and excited that the film will reach so many people.” The movie will be released in all of Netflix’s global markets and will be available in both English and Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. In a similar sentiment, Pitt has stated that, “[he and his production company] are so excited to be a part of the inspiring commitment by Netflix to produce cutting-edge content and to deliver it to a global audience.”
The deals with Jolie and Pitt come shortly after Netflix reached a deal to finance and exclusively release four Adam Sandler movies from Happy Madison Productions, and after it recently announced a deal with the Weinstein Company to simultaneously release the sequel to “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and in Imax theaters in the summer of 2016. Sandler stated that “[w]hen these fine [Netflix] people came to me with an offer to make four movies for them, [he] immediately said yes. Let the streaming begin!”
Obviously, this trend that Netflix has started does not sit well with owners of major theater chains. In fact, several exhibitors, including Regal Cinemas and Cinemark in the U.S. and Cineplex Entertainment in Canada, have stated they plan to boycott the Crouching Tiger sequel by refusing to show it at any of their theaters. “We will not participate in an experiment where you can see the product on screens varying from three storeys tall to three inches wide on a smartphone,” said Regal spokesman Russ Nunley.
Conversely, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said that Netflix’s new foray into exclusive movie production is about giving audiences the flexibility to watch movies when and where they want to. Harvey Weinstein characterized the new developments as simply responding to a media industry in flux. He stated that “[t]he moviegoing experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement.” Similarly, many analysts see the disruption caused by Netflix’s entry into original movies as an overdue challenge to Hollywood’s “carefully controlled” theatrical model. “This is just the start of what Netflix is going to do,” said Rich Greenfield, media analyst for BTIG Research. “Stay tuned. This is just the beginning.”