In a seismic move that Deadline earlier this week revealed was coming, Netflix will boost the awards chances of several contending films by setting exclusive limited theatrical releases prior to the streaming service releases of the Alfonso Cuaron-directed Roma, the Joel & Ethan Coen-directed The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and the Susanne Bier-directed Bird Box, latter of which stars Sandra Bullock.

Netflix

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 level of discussion in the press and among Academy members on this subject has ratcheted up particularly because of Cuaron’s Roma, the Participant Media-financed drama which came out of the fall festivals as a potential front-runner in many categories including Best Picture.

This could be a game changing move for Netflix that should put its films on equal footing with others. Beyond this crop of awards films, Netflix in 2019 will unveil its largest budget awards caliber film so far, the Martin Scorsese-directed The Irishman, which is Scorsese’s first mobster drama with Robert De Niro since Casino. There is also the Steven Soderbergh-directed The Laundromat with Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas, the David Michod-directed The King with Timothee Chalamet as Henry V and the Dee Rees-directed The Last Thing He Wanted with Willem Dafoe, Ben Affleck, and Anne Hathaway.

Netflix

Clearly, Netflix is going to be in the awards hunt each year, so today’s move is not an isolated event. It is unclear whether the new policy will extend to mainstream tent poles like the Michael Bay-directed 6 Underground with Ryan Reynolds starring. For now, the new policy is limited to awards bait fare. The new policy still doesn’t allow Netflix to crack the major theater chains which have rejected Netflix fare because it doesn’t hold to the long window between theatrical and SVOD. Netflix has been working with independent chains like IFC, Landmark and Alamo to get its screen counts here.

To Cuaron, the move is important because it allows filmmakers like himself to make films in the Netflix system knowing that more audiences can see it on a large screen as he intended, if they want to.

“Seeing Roma on the big screen is just as important as ensuring people all over the world have the chance to experience it in their homes,” Cuaron said. “Roma was photographed in expansive 65mm, complemented by a very complex Atmos sound mix. While a movie theater offers the best possible experience for ROMA, it was designed to be equally meaningful when experienced in the intimacy of one’s home.”

The move comes too late for 22 July, the harrowing Paul Greengrass-directed drama about the worst mass shooting in the history of Norway, and the Tamara Jenkins-scripted and directed Private Life. Both are already on the streaming service.

22 July
Netflix

Greengrass’ 22 July carries a particularly timely message about the danger of extremism and hate groups, given the recent mass murder in a Pittsburgh synagogue and the dissemination of explosive packages to media and left leaning celebrities that led to the arrest of an extreme conservative suspect in Florida. While it was released theatrically at the same time it launched on the streaming subscription service, 22 July has been seen by an exceptionally wide audience considering its stark subject matter.

Netflix doesn’t divulge its streaming numbers, but sources close to the film tell Deadline it was viewed by 14.5 million subscriber accounts in its first three weeks on Netflix in 190 countries. The actual audience might be double that, since most movies are viewed by more than one person, and 92% of those who watched stayed until the end. In addition, 22 July has gotten a theatrical release in 134 markets around the world, including the top 15 U.S. markets. Private Life played theatrically in over 20 major U.S. markets theatrically and in London. Plans are on the books to theatrically re-release both films during awards season.

Outlaw King
Netflix

Said Scott Stuber, head of Netflix’s film group: “These upcoming engagements are following the success of our theatrical and Netflix releases of Private Life and 22 July. There’s been an overwhelming response to all of our films this festival season, including Outlaw King, which will be in theaters and on Netflix next week, and this plan is building on that momentum. Netflix’s priority is our members and our filmmakers, and we are constantly innovating to serve them. Our members benefit from having the best quality films from world class filmmakers and our filmmakers benefit by being able to share their artistry with the largest possible audience in over 190 countries worldwide.”

Private Life
Photo by Jojo Whilden

Here’s how the three films will roll out: ROMA will have exclusive limited theatrical engagements starting November 21 in Los Angeles, New York and Mexico. Additional engagements in U.S. cities and London will begin November 29 with other top U.S. markets and international territories continuing to roll out beginning December 7. The film will be released globally on Netflix on December 14 with an expanded theatrical release in the U.S. and international markets. In total, the film will be theatrically released in over 20 territories globally with 70mm presentations also being planned during the film’s theatrical release.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will have exclusive limited theatrical engagements starting November 8 in The Landmark in Los Angeles, The Landmark 57 West in New York, the Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco and Curzon Theater in London. The film will be released globally on Netflix on November 16 and will have an expanded theatrical release in additional U.S. cities, Toronto and theaters throughout Europe.

Bird Box will have exclusive limited theatrical engagements starting December 13 in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London. The film will be released globally on Netflix on December 21 and will have an expanded theatrical release in additional theaters in the U.S., Europe and throughout Europe.