Netflix and movie theaters are finally playing nice — and all it took was a global pandemic to turn these antagonists into friends.
The streaming service’s upcoming zombie thriller, the Zack Snyder-directed “Army of the Dead,” will play exclusively in cinemas starting on May 14 for one week prior to its Netflix release on May 21.
Notably, Cinemark, one of the country’s biggest theater chains, has agreed to screen the movie. It is booked at 200 Cinemark locations, making “Army of the Dead” the first Netflix film to score a wide release at a major theater chain. The movie will play at roughly 600 theaters in total, including iPic, Landmark, Alamo Drafthouse, Harkins and Cinépolis. Other major circuits, specifically AMC and Regal, will not be offering the film.
Without AMC and Regal screens, “Army of the Dead” will have a much smaller footprint than recent hits like “Godzilla vs. Kong” and Bob Odenkirk’s “Nobody.” Those titles each played in more than 3,000 locations. Still, it’s a notable presence for Netflix.
Before COVID-19 upended the movie theater business, audiences who didn’t want to watch the latest Netflix movie on their couch could only do so at smaller chains, Alamo and Landmark included. AMC, Regal and Cinemark had always refused. The country’s largest cinema circuits declined to showcase offerings from the streaming service because Netflix wouldn’t comply to the same theatrical window, usually consisting of 90 days, abided by traditional studios.
The lack of a theatrical release didn’t matter much to Netflix. The company has long argued it doesn’t need to rely on ticket sales; it makes movies to serve its subscribers, who pay for immediate access to the latest buzzy film. In the past, Netflix mainly pushed for limited theatrical runs for awards hopefuls, such as Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” Netflix estimates that “Roma” played on about 250 screens and “The Irishman” played on about 550 screens. That was in pre-pandemic times when a greater number of theaters were open.
Then, the pandemic took a sledgehammer to the theatrical window, with traditional studios like Disney, Universal, Warner Bros. and Paramount making moves that would have made Netflix’s previous bargaining chips seem downright generous. Disney has spent most of the pandemic sending its films to Disney Plus or delaying them indefinitely, but it surprised many by deciding to premiere “Black Widow,” “Cruella” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming service. Universal forged an agreement to put its movies on demand within 17 days of their debuts, while Warner Bros. is debuting its entire film slate on HBO Max the same day they’re released in theaters. Moving forward, Warner Bros. and Paramount have each indicated its titles will adhere to an exclusive 45-day period. It’s exactly the kind of radical change that movie theaters had long resisted.
Netflix doesn’t have a standard rollout for its movies, instead crafting release plans to fit the film itself. The sensory overload of “Army of the Dead,” starring Dave Bautista, is one that Netflix anticipates will benefit from viewing on the biggest screen possible. Billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Snyder’s 2004 film “Dawn of the Dead,” the upcoming caper follows mercenaries who plan a heist in Vegas during a zombie apocalypse.
Justin McDaniel, Cinemark’s senior VP of global content strategy, said the company was looking forward to collaborating with Netflix.
“Cinemark is excited to work with Netflix on our first wide release and provide movie lovers the opportunity to see ‘Army of the Dead’ in our theatres across the U.S.,” McDaniel said. “Zack Snyder fans will love seeing the action in an immersive, cinematic environment with larger-than-life sight and sound technology.”
Netflix, the streaming service that long eschewed the importance of the big screen, said it was “thrilled to offer consumers the opportunity to watch this highly anticipated film in theaters.”
“Following the success of our limited-run in-theatre tests with Cinemark for films like ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,’ ‘The Midnight Sky’ and ‘The Christmas Chronicles 2,’ we are looking forward to the wider theatrical release of ‘Army of the Dead,’” said Spencer Klein, Netflix’s head of distribution.
The companies said they expect to continue working together in the future.
It’s unlikely, though, that Netflix will report box office grosses, despite the larger footprint for “Army of the Dead.”
Some things never change.