Netflix v. Theatrical Release: An Essay

Recently, legendary director Steven Spielberg went on record stating that he believes that films premiered on streaming services like Netflix should be considered TV movies eligible for Emmys rather than Oscars. This topic isn’t new as the Cannes Film Festival has had issues with Netflix Originals. Attempting to differentiate films by their distribution, however, will lead to a dangerous, elitist territory in Hollywood.


The Incredible Jessica James ©Netflix


The film experience is inherently tied to going to the local theater and checking out the latest films. Stepping into the movie theater and catching a whiff of the warm, chemically-buttered popcorn, picking the perfect seat, and waiting to be amazed by a filmmaker’s latest work are just a few of the reasons why seeing films in theaters is so special. While it’s an experience that can’t be replaced, Hollywood reveals its pretentious nature in proclaiming that the way a movie is released is what defines it as a film. By that logic, Mudbound and 13th, two great films released by Netflix, shouldn’t have been nominated for Oscars. Defining a film by its distribution sends the message that because a film premieres on a streaming service or other distribution alternatives it’s automatically lesser than films given a lengthy theatrical release.

In the midst of proclaiming why Netflix Originals aren’t the same as “real” films, many forget that taking new films to the streaming service is a smart business plan. If the goal is to make new movies accessible, then Netflix or any other streaming service, with their millions of subscribers across the world, is a great route to take. Knowing many people who would rather wait until movies are added to Netflix or don’t have easy access to theaters, Netflix proves to be the most economical and accessible option. Most filmmakers don’t have the same notoriety as Spielberg or Christopher Nolan and the online service is a perfectly viable option for new or underrepresented filmmakers. The streaming titan definitely needs promotional improvements, but that doesn’t mean that Netflix isn’t perfectly good film distribution avenue.

Film may be known as a progressive industry, but Hollywood reveals itself to be very traditional as new forms of distribution arise. Instead of pretentiously discussing why Netflix is ruining cinema, the conversation should be how the company offers amazing opportunities to filmmakers and that their promotional campaigns should reflect that. Cinema is supposed to evolve with new technology and the Netflix debate will determine whether or not the industry decides to accept its new reality.

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