5 Takeaways and 1 Question From Box Office Flop of Netflix’s ‘Beasts of No Nation’

Though the day-and-date release flopped, it’s still changing the game

With this weekend’s theatrical rollout of the gritty Idris Elba war drama “Beasts of No Nation,” Netflix is officially in the movie business.

Netflix chief Ted Sarandos has made no secret of the fact he’d like to see his company do the same thing in the movie business that it has in television. The theatrical debut of writer-director Cary Fukunaga‘s “Beasts”  is only the start.

The film  took in a limp $50,699 from just 31 locations – not good, but the film was hobbled by  a boycott by the major chains AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike. They refused to screen the film in protest over Netflix making it available for streaming at the same time which they see as an assault on their exclusive window.

Here’s the one big question? How many people streamed it at home? Neflix won’t say. But the opening did provide us with some important takeaways:

  1. Talking to Talent Landing big-name stars like Angelina Jolie, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler  and Bradley Cooper grabs headlines. But by enabling a rising star like writer-director Cary Fukunaga to get his years-in-the-making passion project “Beasts of No Nation” on screen, Netflix speaks directly to Hollywood talent: “We’re here for you if the studios and others aren’t.” The $12 million they paid for the rights to gritty war drama raises the volume on that statement, as the Oscar-qualifying run for “Beasts” does. “It says, ‘We can get you into the awards parties, too’,” said Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock.
  • Marketing Bang for the Buck. The publicity surrounding the rollout of “Beasts” — and the major theaters’ reaction — has given it a marketing boost you couldn’t pay for. Marketing costs are an often overlooked but critical factor in the success or failure of a film projects. You know the studios are paying attention, so expect a clever studio boss to experiment with substituting a Netflix streaming run for a traditional platform release sometime soon.

  •  The Theater Chains Won’t Surrender “No chef like wants another cook in the kitchen,” said Rentrak senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian and the long-simmering feud between exhibition vs. advocates of earlier at-home viewing options  is suddenly on high. The paltry box office returns show that for now at least, with the major theater chains fighting it all the way, you can’t have your box-office cake and eat up streaming, too. “But it’s an evolutionary process, and eventually a way can be found to make this work for theaters, too.” For now, a $552 per-theater average may be as good as it gets,, and that will make exhibitors dig in.
  •  The Content Hedge As the talent deals pile up, Netflix is building a library, project by project. With each film and every project that makes it online the streaming giant is making itself less dependent on Hollywood’s other content creators. When you are the sort of volume player that Netflix is that matters, and it’s not good news for those looking to make content deals with them in the future.
  •  Netflix on Numbers: Why Should We Tell? Box office results are among the most transparent numbers in  Hollywood; for contrast try deciphering one of the major media companies’ artfully obtuse earnings reports. But Netflix dashed any hopes that it would join the club and come clean with “Beasts” streaming results on Sunday, offering only an official no comment and subtle signals that they were pleased. We’re left wondering if they really are, and why they can’t just spill like everybody else does, especially if they’re strong? For the answer, one need only look to TV, where they’ve redrawn the landscape without a giving up any results — basically, why should we?

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