by Anthony D’Alessandro and Brian Brooks
Putting a new spin on the theatrical-VOD model, Netflix started streaming Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation on Friday, and also opened the film in 31 theaters via Bleecker Street to $50,699, “a horrendous result” according to one rival specialty distrib chief this morning. The theater average for Beasts was $1,635. On the streaming side in 40M homes, a Netflix rep beamed a Fort Knox response in regards to Beasts: “We aren’t issuing any metrics on the film’s performance on Netflix but on background, I can tell you we are very happy.”
Beasts of No Nation was the first title in Netflix’s initiative to push the boundaries of the theatrical window: Back in July Netflix announced a slate of theatrical quality films including Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend as well as Pee Wee’s Big Holiday. Netflix scored 19 Landmark Theatre theatrical markets, while rubbing the rhubarb of NATO theater chains who pledged not to play the film.
As any day-and-date distributor will tell you, theatrical is a prestige play and a loss-leader for a title. Quite often, most streaming services won’t jump on board unless a distributor has a 10-city theater commitment.
However, Netflix’s streaming and theatrical model is a whole different ball of wax from regular theater-VOD. While VOD presents a Sophie’s Choice between paying to watch a film on the big screen in certain markets or paying to watch it at home, for Netflix subscribers it’s much easier. Why would they even think about parking and a babysitter when they can just watch the film at home? That’s one factor that impacted grosses for Beasts of No Nation this weekend. While VOD often grosses more than theatrical for a handful of specialty titles, read Radius’ Snowpiercer ($9M VOD to $4.6M B.O.) and Before We Go ($1.5M+ VOD vs. $37K at the B.O.), one scratches the head as to where Netflix is making their money on Beasts. One distribution exec points to the awards halo effect on Netflix subscriber count from Beasts should the film truly rally this season ala HBO with its Golden Globe and Emmy wins.
The second factor working against Beasts of No Nation this weekend is a very crowded, very fierce arthouse marketplace which included such power grossers as Universal/Legendary’s Steve Jobs ($1.55M from 60 sites), A24’s TIFF winner Room at four theaters ($120K) and Sony Classics’ Truth at six New York and LA theaters ($77K) among others. Similar to other African-political theme films like Mandela ($8.3M), one specialty executive pointed out that Beasts “is a tough subject matter.” The film tells the story of a West African child, who after losing his father in a civil war, is enlisted by an acerbic commandant (Idris Elba) into his mercenary group of child soldiers. Unlike a number of Gotham-based specialty distributors, Netflix has a powerful marketing arm, so it’s not limited by its dollar ad spend. Beasts of No Nation kicked off a great word of mouth campaign with festival runs at Venice, Telluride, TIFF, Mill Valley and London yielding a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90% fresh — but again this sounds like it’s impacting the streaming side.
In regards to the rest of Netflix’s theatrical releases, one company insider told Deadline that they’re “using different strategies for different films,” that the model for one title, such as Beasts, is not the model for the next title. Who knows? Maybe Adam Sandler does the trick at theaters for the streaming label, and maybe not. Netflix chief content officer was hopeful about working with the SNL alum going forward, expounding at TCA last summer that “One of things that is happening is that most of Adam’s audience is at home and they’re watching his stuff over and over again.”