Christopher Nolan, the acclaimed director of the upcoming Dunkirk, harshly criticized Netflix over the company’s business strategy, accusing CEO Reed Hastings and others of trying to shut down the theater business.
In an interview with Indiewire ahead of Dunkirk’s premiere, Nolan called out the company for its “bizarre aversion” to supporting theatrical releases, saying that movies screening in theaters at the same time they are streaming on Netflix is an “untenable model for theatrical presentations.”
“I think the investment that Netflix is putting into interesting filmmakers and interesting projects would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters,” Nolan said. “It’s so pointless. I don’t really get it.”
This isn’t the first time that Netflix’s business model has taken flak from the film community. Just recently, the streaming service made headlines after two of its movies, Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Because Netflix did not release its films into French markets, the festival committee decided to ban streaming-only movies, meaning that eligible films had to have a theatrical release in France. This led to conversation about Netflix’s role within the film industry as it attempts to create more original, feature-length films.
The company will also release two blockbuster-style movies this year: Bright from Suicide Squad director David Ayer, and a live-action adaptation of popular Japanese manga Death Note.
Following Cannes, Hastings sat down with Peter Kafka at Recode’s CodeCon to talk about the company and what had happened. Hastings said the festival ultimately kept the films in for reasons of artistic integrity, adding that this type of conflict comes when a company with a newer model tries to change how the old guard operates.
“Sometimes the establishment is clumsy when it tries to shut out the insurgent, and then the insurgent’s role is to play that up, which we did,” Hastings said.
That’s not all Hastings had to say, though. The CEO added that he believed people would still go to theaters even if they had the opportunity to stream the movie for free on the same day. Hastings said that while he’s certain the current model will have to change to adapt to emerging technology, people will still want to go out to movie theaters to watch certain films.
“Just like you go out to dinner even though you know how to cook,” Hastings said as an example.
Amazon’s movie business model is somewhat similar to Netflix’s in that it also has a dedication to making feature films. But Amazon releases movies to theaters exclusively for 90 days before making them available to stream for Amazon Prime members. This gives the films a chance to pull in a profit at the box office — and to be seen on a bigger screen with better audio than on a television set or MacBook.
In this way, Amazon acts like a more traditional studio, whereas Netflix wants to try and shake things up. The question is how well that’s playing out for Netflix. Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers for its films or TV series, making it impossible to know how many people have watched Okja, its latest release, on Netflix versus in theaters.
Considering Hastings has said previously that he believes theater owners and the current system will lead to “strangling the movie business,” it’s unlikely that Netflix is going to change its tune anytime soon.
For those like Nolan, who has said he has no plans to work with Netflix in the future, that means relying on other studios, which won’t be an issue for directors of his stature.
Dunkirk will be released — in theaters — on July 21. You can read our review now.