Why Is Netflix Ruining All the Fun?

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It should be our right as Americans to watch Kate Hudson absolutely slay a comeback role on a big screen in a crowded theater.

We pay taxes. We vote. We are owed the giggle that grows into a roar every time Hudson is on screen in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. It’s called human rights.

The gleeful guffawing over Hudson’s performance is a shared experience that happens only in a theater, and it’s so gratifying. It’s why it’s so maddening that Netflix’s release strategy for the movie is so nonsensical, bordering on idiotic.

Netflix picked up the rights to the sequels to the surprise 2019 hit Knives Out for $450 million. At first glance, nothing about that sentence should be too surprising: Netflix shelling out an ungodly amount of money to lend credibility to its original film library? That happens often. But there was still something confusing that didn’t sit right about it.

Knives Out, with Daniel Craig’s goofy Foghorn Leghorn Southern accent, original mystery, and Chris Evans’ envy-inducing sweater wardrobe, became somewhat of a phenomenon because it was a rarity: a movie that was not based on existing IP, featuring a superhero, or produced by Marvel that was a bona fide box-office smash. As critics and industry insiders fawned over it, the film was assigned somewhat of a “savior” status. It was proof that people were willing to go to the theater to see original material again, a sign that the floundering theatrical market might be resuscitated yet.

And then its sequels were snatched up by the streaming service many people blame for cinemas’ demise in the first place. That’s showbiz, baby!

It was a surprise, then, that Netflix made the historic decision to put Glass Onion in theaters across the country for a week, beginning over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As part of the Academy’s rules, Netflix has had to put films it wants to receive Oscar consideration in theaters, but usually it’s just a single screen in New York and Los Angeles—a formality. This was a major conceit for the streamer, which has long valued new subscribers who may be interested in their films more than a box-office haul.

While Netflix is notorious for its lack of transparency when it comes to viewership numbers or ticket sales—so take this with all of the salt in the Atlantic Ocean—the film reportedly made $13 million over the holiday weekend at just 700 theaters.

People were excited to see the movie. They went to see the movie. Anecdotally, they really liked the movie, too—based on my friends and social media circle—and have been saying as much. I’m saying as much now: This movie is really fun! When I described it to a friend recently, I said the word “fun” so many times we joked that we should have turned it into a drinking game: a shot each time I said the word again. Presumably, reading this will make you want to see the movie. But you can’t! Sorry! By the time you’ve read this, the film won’t be in theaters anymore. It makes no sense.

Granted, this is the first time Netflix has attempted a strategy like this, but the messaging has still been confusing.

At Thanksgiving, for example, my brother suggested that the family watch Glass Onion on Netflix, because he knew that Netflix was behind the sequel and had heard that the film was “out” over the weekend. It’s actually only in theaters right now, I told him. He said then maybe he’d go see it the next weekend after family obligations for the holiday were over. Well, it wouldn’t be in theaters anymore, I said. He assumed that meant it was going to be on Netflix, and got excited. That’s a fair assumption! But, no. It wouldn’t be on the streamer until Christmas. It just was, for no reason, just no longer going to be in theaters.

How would any normal, rational-thinking person who just wants to see a fun movie (take a shot!) be able to keep track of any of that?

People want to see a movie, but now, in spite of weeks of marketing alerting them to the film’s release, they can’t, because they only had a seven-day timeframe to do so. Theater owners desperately want to keep the film playing, especially since, between Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s release several weeks ago and Avatar: The Way of the Water’s opening in the middle of December, there are weeks without a major release with hit potential. Glass Onion would be the perfect movie to keep the box office booming during that doldrum.

The future we all feel is inevitable seems to be arriving quicker than expected, when there’s going to be just two kinds of movies: ones released on streamers like Netflix, and Marvel films in theaters. That’s a major bummer. It shouldn’t be only superhero movies that are keeping cinemas’ lights on and doors open. But when even something like a Knives Out sequel is saving itself for streaming, then that’s the situation we’ll soon be in.

And we lose something when that happens. Adult dramas that used to be major box-office players—movies like Terms of Endearment or Erin Brockovich—will stop being made. Inclusive, diverse stories will stop being made. (Look at the Bros discourse for more on that.) That’s not just a blight on the film industry, but on our culture, which looks to the screen and the stories on it to guide us and change us.

As for the films on the streamers themselves, even the good ones will suffer. I’m so glad I saw Glass Onion in a theater because, if I had waited for it to be on streaming, I probably wouldn’t have thought it was good. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.

I would have been folding laundry or scrolling through Instagram. When a major twist is revealed involving Janelle Monáe’s character, I would have missed out on the chorus of gasps from fellow moviegoers. I would have missed several of the hidden-in-plain-sight clues that all pay off as the mystery is solved at the end. I would not have experienced the spiritual joining of arms that was a crowd of people delighting together in Kate Hudson being so damn good in this movie.

The fun of Glass Onion is the theatrical experience. We should all be watching it together, then coming home and pulling up videos of Kate Hudson singing “Cinema Italiano” in Nine on YouTube and agreeing that we didn’t give her enough credit then. Instead we’ll be sitting in a cloud of our own farts playing Candy Crush while the movie streams in the background, completely missing out on the Hudsonaissance. Kate deserves better. We all deserve better.

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