Well, in the wake of the Academy Award nominations, you can always expect some follow-up drama. The full nominations for the film industry’s biggest awards show were released yesterday, with one of the major storylines (other than the snubbing of POC actors and filmmakers) becoming the fact that the 24 nominations for Netflix films for the first time surpassed all other major studios. We’ve officially arrived in an era where Netflix is even more of an awards show presence than Disney, but that doesn’t mean the country’s largest theater chains are happy about it.
Following the nominations news, spokespeople for AMC, the largest U.S. theater chain, and Regal Cinemas both announced their theater chains would not be screening Netflix entries as part of the annual Academy Awards screening blocks. Both chains avoided direct commentary on the decision, save to say that they would not be including any nominated films that lacked “a standard theatrical release.”
Therein lies the rub, of course. Despite the 10 Oscar nominations for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and the six for Marriage Story, chains like AMC and Regal would rather leave potential profits on the table than cater to the like of Netflix, whose subscription model they fear has a natural negative effect on in-person theater attendance. It doesn’t even matter that both The Irishman and Marriage Story DID have fairly wide theatrical runs—Marriage Story was on 1,000 (non-AMC, non-Regal) screens, while The Irishman was on about 2,000—or that AMC waited four weeks from its first theatrical screenings to debut The Irishman on the service. In the eyes of AMC, that’s still not good enough, as other films are typically given a 90 day window of exclusivity.
Netflix’s response, meanwhile, has been to work with independent movie theaters and smaller chains in order to secure eligibility for the awards circuit, but if they could finally breach the defenses of the likes of AMC, it would be a game-changing moment for film distribution. One can’t help but think that chains like AMC are holding out, trying to prevent a day when Netflix’s special treatment has other studios likewise demanding changes to the established dogma.
One can also rest assured that if a film like The Irishman wins best picture at the Oscars, it will only put more pressure on chains like AMC and Regal to profit off their opportunity to screen them, even if it is for limited engagements.