While Tommy Wirkola's fantasy thriller "What Happened to Monday" hits theaters in Estonia this Friday, Netflix subscribers in the U.S. and U.K. have already been able to watch it online since Aug. 18. According to distributor Timo Diener, Netflix's influence on movie theaters is increasing and such situations will become more common.
According to Diener, the situation with "What Happened to Monday" was better for the distributor, as previously awarded contracts were left in place and Netflix only won the American and British markets for themselves. "Generally, however, Netflix takes worldwide rights [to a film]; thanks to this I have also been left without two films which I have bought," he claimed, explaining that distributors are often warned upon purchasing film rights that a "big company" is on the horizon. "More and more often, however, this means Netflix alongside major film studios."
This means that large-scale films which might otherwise attract moviegoers will only see the light of television screens. One such film is this year's "To the Bone," a film about a young woman's battle with anorexia that was released on Netflix worldwide this July. Diener noted that he was in the process of purchasing the rights to this film in Estonia, as he found that the film was gripping and featured good actors, but the contract didn't ultimately enter into force after Netflix stepped in. "Worldwide distribution rights [to the film] went to Netflix and nobody had the right to say anything," he said.
According to the distributor, there have been other cases in which distribution rights have been split between Netflix and movie theaters. One example, for example, was "Fun Mom Dinner," recently screened in Estonian movie theaters under the title "Emmede vaba õhtu," whose American distribution rights were sold to Netflix. "This is a situation which has only come up over the last couple of years, and really it's not surprising as it is good for the filmmakers — you don't have to worry about rating and you don't need a large marketing budget or target group analysis," Diener explained.
Affected in part by this shift, movie theater attendance remains on the decline in the U.S. According to Diener, this has been the case for years, and attendance most recently dropped 13 percent in the span of just one year, which means in turn that box office numbers which one year seemed to be on the low side already felt colossal by the next due to steadily declining attendance numbers. The negative trend was also confirmed by this past weekend, which marked the lowest box office numbers since September 2001.
"Netflix's production budgets are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and as strange as it seems, it is all on the rise and only just beginning," Diener predicted, adding that it is likely that there will be more cases of potential movie theater-worthy films not making it to Estonian theaters thanks to the streaming giant. "Luckily we still have such directors as Christopher Nolan and James Cameron, who are clearly against streaming and who continue to create films meant to be seen in theaters, but Netflix is likely already coming up with the means to get them on board too.
The film distributor wouldn't rule out Netflix building its own movie theaters in the U.S. in the future either. "This would solve the problem of large awards ceremonies, as with the Oscars, for example, it is still required that a film must be screened at some movie theater in the U.S.," he added.
Editor: Aili Vahtla