In recent years at CinemaCon, premium VOD and the Screening Room were threatening to trample the livelihood of theatrical releases. However, the box office –which could set yet another back-to-back domestic record in 2019 with $12 billion –remains hands-down resilient in the face of new challenges including Disney swallowing up Fox and the emergence of Netflix as an industry game-changer.
While the Disney-Fox merger has indeed collapsed industry production (and winnowed employees), big theater chains haven’t winced because the biggest muscle in event moviegoing, Disney, remains in charge, protecting the theatrical window. Still, questions about the merger’s ongoing impact, the new Marvel, and Fox’s revised global distribution operations remain ongoing.
Then there’s Netflix, which won’t be holding a session at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace this year but will certainly be the nonstop topic of discussion this week in Las Vegas, especially when the press sits down with MPAA chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin to talk about the streamer’s membership in the org, which has historically only included major motion picture studios as members.
The big question first and foremost: Is Netflix breaking into the wide theatrical release space on Martin Scorsese’s $200 million film production The Irishman this fall? Word is that the Scorsese camp, much like Alfonso Cuarón with his three-Oscar-winning Netflix pic Roma, wants a wide theatrical release. And in order for Netflix to pull one off, it will definitely need the help of the big three theater chains: AMC, Cinemark and Regal. Netflix, which only has licensing executives here at CinemaCon, isn’t scheduled to have any talks with the Big Three this week.
While Roma played a consortium of art house theaters, those film executives who’ve distributed day-and-date or limited theatrical/VOD releases say that at best Netflix could score a 500-theater run at max as of now. “Some indies won’t play on principle,” said one rival indie distribution boss with knowledge about theatrical VOD releases.
Certainly, the outcome of the board of governors meeting at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this month will be a deciding factor on how Netflix handles The Irishman. Will it pursue a similar limited rollout strategy like it did with Roma? That plan entailed three weeks of limited theatrical play in major awards-voter enclaves prior to streaming on December 14. The current minimum Academy rule requires a film to play seven consecutive days in Los Angeles, with a simultaneous streaming release on a service like Netflix or Amazon permissible. Some distribution sources acknowledged to us last season that despite Netflix upsetting some rivals with the Roma rollout, the streaming giant wasn’t cheating and played by AMPAS rules. In addition, Netflix’s distribution of Roma wasn’t novel: IFC Films had pulled off a similar Oscar-qualified theatrical/VOD rollout for Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop nine years ago before it scored a Best Adapted Screenplay nom.
Note that after the awards success of Roma, Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke made it known at TCA recently that she’s even considering the Netflix theatrical/streaming model for certain titles down the road.
We’ve heard rumors that plans for a three- or four-week theatrical wide release for The Irishman were kicked around, but the fact of the matter is there haven’t been formal discussions about the Scorsese film between exhibition heads and Netflix execs; the official word from Netflix is that there aren’t any theatrical plans yet. A wide theatrical release for Irishman would be the ultimate Netflix advertisement for a demo it doesn’t fully own quite yet: Scorsese pics skew toward audiences over 40, while the bulk of those who stream are under 40.
While some in exhibition scoff at a three- or four-week window for The Irishman, those in industry circles tell us the biggest advice they can give Netflix is to hire a key distribution executive who can feasibly negotiate with the big cat circuits.
“There is a middle ground, and there is a way, they just need the right person at the bargaining table,” one studio distribution sage said, dispensing his two cents to Netflix.
Another wise word to Netflix: Don’t repeat Paramount’s mistakes when it tried to land a truncated theatrical window for Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension with theater chains. The studio’s plan was to get exhibitors on board for a shortened theatrical window, and make both titles available in the home 17 days after their theater counts dipped below 300. Theaters were given a chance to share in the home entertainment revenue. However, news broke early that Paramount was talking with AMC first, which ticked off the other chains who then barred the two titles. In the end, AMC, Cineplex, National Amusements and Alamo Drafthouse agreed to Paramount’s terms. Both pics played in less than 1,700 theaters and tanked, with Ghost Dimension earning a final domestic box office of $18.3M and Scouts Guide an awful $3.7M. Netflix would need to eloquently negotiate with the majors in a way where others don’t feel boxed out.
While exhibition has had a bad taste in its mouth for quite some time over the public slamming it has endured by Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings and chief content officer Ted Sarandos at various conferences, we hear that the big chains would forgive and forget if the streaming giant decides to respect the 90-day theatrical window.
After being questioned about whether he’d play The Irishman in the fall, AMC Theatres boss Adam Aron told CNBC last month, “This isn’t a contest between Netflix and AMC, and for that matter the movie industry…As for that matter Netflix, Irishman and Roma, we’d be delighted to play any movie, from any studio, including Netflix, that respects the decades-old theatrical window, that suggests that movies come to theaters first for a couple of months, and then go to the home. If that is what Netflix is willing to do, we’d be delighted to show their movie in the fall. But we do value the theatrical window, it’s something that is important to our company, something that’s important to our industry, and something we intend to continue to respect.”
In a recently interview with Deadline, Cineworld boss Mooky Greidinger said in regards to The Irishman, “I think it would be a pity that a movie with such a budget and such talent would not get a proper theatrical release, and would instead be released in a small number and size cinemas. Without a meaningful theatrical release, the movie should not qualify for best movie of the year.”
Mid-Atlantic coast theater owner and exhibition vet Rick Roman offers an encouraging word to Netflix: “They are under attack right now with Disney and Apple starting streaming services. With the merger of Disney and Fox, that attack will escalate. A lot of the movies that opened in theaters are no longer going to be available to Netflix. What they should be doing is launch an offensive against their competitors in the streaming business. The studios are launching streaming services that will cut into their territory, so why not go out of the box and offer their content to the theaters? Having an award-winning film or a big popular hit in theaters that Netflix then releases to their subscribers will replace what they are losing from the studios, plus give them an additional stream of revenue. Netflix should embrace the wide-release theatrical model to win awards and get more directing talent making films for them.”
Disney-Fox Also Brings The Noise To CinemaCon: Who will run their combined two-year slate of 40 releases?
This CinemaCon, Fox will officially be folded into Disney’s presentation — at a running time of two hours. After Disney axed esteemed Fox distribution brass Chris Aronson and EVP and General Sales Manager Spencer Klein, plenty of questions remain as the new merger has 20 films to release for the remainder of this year and another 20 for 2020. And that’s not counting future titles Fox Searchlight might snap up from festivals.
Here’s what Deadline has learned recently: Handling the remainder of the Fox schedule on the domestic side of distribution will be Bill Lewis and Linda Ditrinco based out of New York, reporting to Disney SVP and General Sales Manager of North America, Ken Caldwell (who will in turn report to Disney’s Presiden of Distribution and Franchise Management Cathleen Taff). Managing Fox’s international releases with division boss Andrew Cripps’ departure will be Bryan Song and Andrew Marshall, reporting in to Disney’s SVP International Distribution Jeffrey Forman (he also reports to Taff). Frank Rodriguez will continue to lead Fox Searchlight’s distribution ops. How long the current Fox staff remains in place is unknown; in regards to working beyond two years, that will depend on how many titles Big Fox pumps out under Disney. During the Miramax days, Disney allowed the label to have its own foreign sales, domestic distribution ops, publicity and marketing teams.
Fox distribution/marketing executives have experience in turning middle-budget fare — such as The Greatest Showman and Bohemian Rhapsody — into mega commercial awards-season fare, similar to how Miramax functioned under Disney. The hope is that Disney continues to put marketing muscle behind some of these surefire Fox bets and not orphan them, which is traditionally the scenario when a new regime takes over a slate it didn’t shepherd. While Disney has done right at the box office with some Steven Spielberg dramas like Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, and DreamWorks’ The Help, industry sources believe the studio’s strong suit is with four-quad branded pics — not dramas, R-rated pics and smaller titles. (When 2012’s The Light Between Oceans tanked, rival distribution chiefs sniped that Disney wasn’t acquainted with handling such sophisticated art house fare.)
And what about the new Marvel?
The consensus is we won’t hear from Marvel boss Kevin Feige this CinemaCon in regards to the grand design of the new Disney/Fox Marvel as the merger absorbs Fox’s X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four universes. We still don’t know what the Disney MCU titles are for next year other than that they have been slotted on the release calendar for May 1 and November 6. The understanding is that the answer will reveal itself sometime after Avengers: Endgame. Again, Disney/Marvel is known to pull off secrets down to the wire, so there’s always that slight chance there could be some news this week. The big questions remaining: Does X-Men spinoff The New Mutants get kicked off this summer’s release calendar onto Hulu? What will happen with Gambit? Producer Lauren Shuler Donner told us at TCA that the Channing Tatum project’s fate is in the hands of the new conglom and has been out of development sans a director. One thing that’s certain on Wednesday: expect footage from Fox’s summer Dr. Xavier finale Dark Phoenix.
Lastly, will we finally see anything from Avatar 2 this year?
It wouldn’t be a shocker if James Cameron returns this year to CinemaCon, and he’s long overdue. The last time he was here was three years ago, when he boldly announced the production of four Avatar sequels. The Oscar-winning director’s appearance alone could help give a face and renewed sense of vigor to this merger which has left many gloomy in recent weeks post-layoffs.
Remaining Disney-Fox release sked for 2019-2020
April 17 – Easter Weekend
2 Disney/Fox films on the marquee
Breakthrough (20th Century Fox)
Penguins (Disney Nature)
Avengers: Endgame (Disney/Marvel)
Tolkien (Fox Searchlight)
2 Disney/Fox films on the marquee, but Ad Astra rumored to head to the fall
Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)
Dark Phoenix (20th Century Fox)
Toy Story 4 (Disney/Pixar)
Stuber (20th Century Fox)
The Lion King (Disney)
The New Mutants (20th Century Fox)
rumored to go to Hulu
Artemis Fowl (Disney)
Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox)
The Art of Racing in the Rain (20th Century Fox)
The Woman in the Window (20th Century Fox)
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Disney)
Ford v. Ferrari (20th Century Fox)
Frozen 2 (Disney)
Star Wars: Episode IX (Disney)
The Call of the Wild (20th Century Fox)
Disney and 2 Fox films on same weekend
Untitled Disney Live Action film
Nimona (20th Century Fox)
Untiled Kingsmen Movie (20th Century Fox)
Gambit (20th Century Fox)
The film isn’t in development, and remains without a director despite interest from Channing Tatum.
Untitled Marvel (Disney)
Free Guy (Fox)
Bob’s Burgers (20th)
Jungle Cruise (Disnewy)
Two Fox films on same weekend
Death on the Nile (20th Century Fox)
Untitled Disney Live Action
Two Disney/Fox films on same weekend
Ron’s Gone Wrong (20th Century Fox)
Untitled Disney Animation
Avatar 2 (20th Century Fox)
Untitled Disney Live Action