If you want your movie to have any cultural significance, put it in theaters

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Tatiana Siegel writing for Variety: Apple’s Blockbuster Gamble

On March 10, the tech giant has 13 shots to take home an Oscar via two historical epics, “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Napoleon,” which nabbed 10 and three nominations, respectively. That’s given Apple the second-biggest haul among the major studios and streamers, just behind Netflix’s 18 nods and tied with Universal and Searchlight.

It was a pretty brutal night for the streamers and a great night for Universal and Searchlight. Apple was completely shut out and Netflix just won Best Live Action Short Film for Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer (Universal) and Poor Things (Searchlight) took almost everything each of them were nominated for.

Yet neither “Killers” nor “Napoleon” moved the needle as much as many industry observers expected. “Argylle,” with its $200 million price tag, is an unmitigated disaster. No studio is better poised to absorb colossal budgets than Apple. But even Wall Street is wondering if the studio’s reported $1 billion annual spend on films would have been better served by pumping up the volume of product rather than taking a few nine-figure swings.

In Cord Jefferson’s acceptance speech (Best Adapted Screenplay for American Fiction), he gave studios the business for being hooked on $200+ million gambles and implored them to make more, cheaper movies. I fully endorse the idea, and I don’t mean they need to be $5 million indies, but I think audiences have shown that they are into creative movies, not just the biggest, most expensive thing they’ve ever seen on screen.

“There’s clearly an acknowledgment of how important theatrical is — not just in terms of the box office but in terms of the cultural footprint,” says Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

A few years ago I called for movie studios to release everything on streaming day-and-date with their theatrical release, but I take that back – I was wrong. It turns out that even when you market a movie aggressively, if it goes straight to streaming, its cultural impact is basically zero. A streaming-first’s only hope is that it wins an Oscar, otherwise it’s just another piece of “content” on people’s smart TVs. It’s chum.

Even a short exclusive theatrical run builds awareness and excitement for movies in a way that just hasn’t been replaced yet.

Not for nothing, but did you know David Fincher put out a really good thriller about an assassin at the end of last year? No?! It’s called The Killer and it’s only on Netflix. Michael Fassbender stars and Trent Reznor did the music. It rips, but I keep telling people about it and they had no idea one of their favorite directors had a new movie out.