Netflix continues to spread its wings when it comes to its film division. The company recently released “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” in theaters, where the film was a financial success of $15 million in five days in a relatively limited release. Industry experts believe that the film could have been much bigger if Netflix had agreed to extend the theatrical window.
But the company’s co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos aren’t interested in the theoretical financial benefits that longer theatrical-exclusive windows could offer them. They have insisted that their company makes movies for subscribers to watch on Netflix, and that is where their main focus lies.
Netflix film chief Scott Stuber has more of an affinity for theatrical releases than his bosses do, but he’s committed to doing things the company’s way. Stuber spoke with Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw about “Glass Onion” and Netflix’s future strategy when it comes to theatrical releases. According to Stuber, Netflix’s plan to make eight to 12 films for theatrical release per year was an ambitious plan, and the company’s film division needed time to settle into it.
“It was really hopeful,” Stuber said of the projection. “We had to build an infrastructure of executive talent who could speak film. It was to recruit that talent. Get Marty Scorsese, get Alfonso Cuaron, Susanne Bier, Paul Greengrass. Then we moved into a number of talent-driven, R-rated movies. We had to build a development pipeline. Sometimes people forget that our film group is four years old. We started with nothing. We’re finally getting there.”
Stuber also pointed out the challenges facing the theaters in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are people leery of packing into crowded indoor spaces again, but the content offerings from streaming services have also become more and more cinematic every year.
“We must use this moment collectively as an industry to be dynamic and stimulate growth,” Stuber said. “How do we get young people to care about theatres? Our company and other big companies like HBO and Apple and Amazon are making TV shows on a gigantic scale.”
Stuber’s point about shows like HBO Max’s “House of the Dragon,” Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things” is well stated. Such shows have production values that put them on par with the biggest, flashiest blockbusters to come out of Hollywood, and they’re all accessible from the audience’s living room.
The executive was also asked about Netflix’s current development outlook. Stuber didn’t specifically mention that more movies were headed for theatrical windows, but he did provide details on how many movies users of the service can expect in the coming years.
“We’ll be at about 25-28 between the three divisions — the big studio team, the mid-budget team and the indie,” he said. “We also have documentaries, animation, our holiday group, non-English films. That makes 45 or 50. That sounds like a lot, but we have seven different teams focused on that.
When asked how these films would be able to make money without theatrical releases, Stuber stated that the company was committed to making sure it was making films of theatrical caliber before worrying about making money from them. Netflix recently launched an ad-supported tier, which it hopes will help monetize more users.