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Will Smith broaches Netflix versus theater debate during San Diego Comic-Con panel

Unlike Christopher Nolan, he doesn’t think it needs to be a competitive difference

Bright Netflix Netflix

During Netflix’s first ever Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con, actor Will Smith was asked about his thoughts on the difference between Netflix and theatrical releases.

The question comes just one day after Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan called out the streaming service for trying to ruin the industry by having films release in theaters and on Netflix simultaneously. Nolan said he refused to work with Netflix under the circumstances, pointing to Amazon as a company that understands how to work with both mediums, adding that he couldn’t wrap his mind around Netflix’s business strategy.

Smith has a different opinion. The actor, who just wrapped a blockbuster movie with Netflix called Bright, said while he understands there is a difference between the two releases and how those experiences compare, he doesn’t believe the two need to be in competition with one another. Instead, Smith added, people need to realize there are different ways to enjoy movies and Netflix is just another piece of an ongoing puzzle.

“It’s interesting to be at the forefront of whatever this new way to consume entertainment is going to be,” Smith said. “I have a 16-year-old, a 19-year-old and 25-year-old at home and the movies they go to the theaters to see and those on Netflix don’t really cross. They go to the movies on the weekends and watch Netflix during the week.’

Smith acknowledged there’s a difference between the version of the film audiences see depending on the venue they watch the movie in. For example, Netflix released its new movie, Okja, into theaters and made it available to stream on the same day. When it came to the theatrical release, the movie was made available to watch in 35 mm, which is something those who decided to stream on Netflix couldn’t do. Smith said this is all apart of the technological changes Netflix is bringing to the industry, but reiterated there’s no reason the two can’t co-exist.

“It’s a difference in a way that in the early days of film, there was stage plays and then you went from stage plays to home entertainment,” Smith said. “There’s something about that big screen that does something in people’s minds that’s different. I don’t think it’s [watching a movie in a theater versus on Netflix] a competitive difference. I think it will just expand a fan’s ability to enjoy entertainment.”

Smith’s comments are inline with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ thoughts. Hastings has said time and time again that Netflix offering simultaneous streaming and exclusive content wasn’t going to kill the film industry. The other aspect of working with Netflix that both Smith and Bright director David Ayer praised the company for doing that other studios wouldn’t? Make the movie they wanted to, not the one the studio needed.

“It’s about a really fucked up LA. I get to explore some really cool social issues,” Ayer said when he was introducing the film. “I was able to do my shit here. I was able to tell a fucking story.

“This isn’t a PG-13 bullshit studio movie.”

Smith joked that the amount of money Netflix gave them — approximately $100 million — is something the company will probably stop doing soon, but said he appreciate being able to make a weird movie without having to worry about executive notes.

Bright, a movie where orcs, elves and humans live amongst one another and social hierarchy controls everything, will be released on Dec. 22.

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