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Coming to Theaters Near You: New Movies From Netflix

This won't revolutionize the movie business. But it will generate lots of attention for the streaming video service. Smart.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Some movie studios aren’t eager to give Netflix their newest releases. So Reed Hastings is going to make his own, with help from Harvey Weinstein.

Netflix is carrying through with a trial balloon it floated last year, and says it will finance movies that will debut simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming video service. The first: a sequel to 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” produced by the Weinstein Company.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” will debut on Netflix next August, at the same time it will appear in some Imax theaters — but not in any other theater chains.

Big deal? Yes. Wave of the future? Not unless you’re very, very patient.

The movie business is set up with carefully managed “windows,” which dictate that films show up in theaters first, then on DVD and “on demand services” and eventually to outlets like HBO and Netflix. Theater chains, which studios believe play a crucial role in promoting their movies, have squawked loudly whenever Hollywood has tried tinkering with the current system.

So Netflix’s move is both an end-run and an edge case: You’ll be able to see the new “Crouching Tiger” — featuring some of the original movie’s original cast, but without original director Ang Lee — at some of the 868 Imax theaters around the world. But you’re not going to see the new “Star Wars” movie, or any other big production from a big movie studio, debuting on Netflix anytime soon.

Nor is Netflix the first service to bring movies to home viewers at the same time they’re in theaters. If you check your cable service’s video-on-demand menu, you’ll see lots of opportunities to rent indie movies that are still in theatrical runs.

And last summer the Weinstein Company generated plenty of publicity by releasing “Snowpiercer,” a dystopian adventure allegory, for home viewers while it was still at the box office.

Count on much more hoopla and chin-stroking about what-it-all-means when the new “Crouching Tiger” appears next summer. Which is surely part of Netflix’s plan — just like its successful plan to generate publicity for its move into original TV shows in 2013, when it debuted “House of Cards” with an A-list cast and novel “binge” release strategy.

Nearly two years later, original shows account for a small portion of Netflix’s programming budget — less than 10 percent. But they generate lots of attention, and help the service distinguish itself from online competitors and pay-TV rivals like HBO. Movies are the next logical step.


Here’s the speech from October 2013 where Netflix content czar Ted Sarandos first suggested that his company could produce “big movies”, and “follow the consumers’ desire to watch things when they want.” The part you want to see kicks in around the 19-minute mark:

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