Should Netflix’s ‘Glass Onion’ Stay In Theaters Longer?

“Glass Onion,” a crime mystery, took in about $13.3 million over the long Thanksgiving weekend, a feat considering it was only released in about 700 theaters.

But some industry analysts are scratching their heads over what they say was a missed opportunity for Netflix to capture more box office dollars if it had gone with a wider slate of theaters.

The sequel to “Knives Out,” starring Daniel Craig, will end its exclusive window in theaters on November 29. After that, viewers will have to wait until Dec. 23 to watch it on Netflix, which has bought the rights to two “Knives.” Out,” sequels, including “Glass Onion,” in a $450 million deal.

Netflix has long had an ambivalent relationship with the big screen. It saw big-budget movies as a key part of its content strategy to keep customers coming to its streaming platform. But its practice of releasing movies at home at the same time or shortly after their theatrical debut has angered theater operators, who say the practice has weakened their business and discouraged moviegoers from leaving their homes.

“Knives Out,” the 2019 predecessor to Lionsgate’s “Glass Onion,” has grossed more than $300 million worldwide and opened in more than 3,000 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

Had “Glass Onion” been given a mainstream release in today’s depressed market, it could have made even more money than the original “Knives Out” worldwide, said Jeff Bock, senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.

“This is probably one of the biggest blunders in modern movie release history in terms of ruining what could have been done at the box office with ‘Glass Onion,'” Bock said. “In my mind, they left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. If they can afford it, that’s great, Netflix — but every other studio in town is just shaking their heads at that decision, because every other studio in town would love to have this movie on the market right now.”

Some analysts say that if The Glass Onion had been in more theaters for a longer period of time, it would have helped generate even more buzz, plus it would have helped fuel public demand for more films — where production schedules have been affected by the pandemic. There are currently about 37 fewer movies released this year so far than in 2019, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

“The movie had a solid five days, but it wasn’t in that many theaters,” Dergarabedian said. “If it had been in more theaters, I think it would have definitely done a lot more business.”

Netflix declined to comment.

But its top executives defended the strategy.

The thinking behind the one-week theatrical release was to build buzz for “Glass Onion” ahead of its release on Netflix, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO and chief content officer, said in an earnings call last month. Also, the release of the film in this time slot helps it qualify for awards, he added.

“There’s all kinds of back and forth, but there’s no question internally that we make our movies for our members and we really want them to watch them on Netflix,” Sarandos said.

Unlike many other Hollywood studios, Netflix’s core business is its streaming service, which offers a large library of content including TV shows, movies and mobile games to its 223 million subscribers worldwide.

“We’re in the business of entertaining our members with Netflix movies on Netflix. So that’s where we focus all of our energy and most of our spending,” Sarandos said.

Still, some industry observers say the film strategy behind “Glass Onion” illustrates how theaters and streaming services can work together to help promote movies in a way that’s mutually beneficial.

Playing movies in a theater can be attractive to talent who want to see their projects on the big screen. It can also help garner more critical acclaim and buzz, which in turn will help drive viewers to the streaming service.

National Association. Theater owners said they were happy to see “Glass Onion” back in theaters.

This successful limited release serves as another step forward in how cinema and streaming can mutually benefit each other,” the group said in a statement. “Going forward, we believe that wider releases with longer runs can generate even more business, both in theaters and in home entertainment.”

Netflix and other streaming services are in intense competition for subscribers and content. The company laid off hundreds of employees earlier this year after suffering subscriber losses in the first half of the year.

Other streaming services take a different approach to how they release movies. For example, Warner Bros. Discovery has chosen not to release movies like “Batgirl” that were made for its streaming service. Instead, its CEO believes that big-budget movies do better on streaming services when they’re released exclusively in theaters.

The collaboration between movie theaters and Netflix on “Glass Onion” is an example of pandemic disruption, creating new business models that everyone is learning from right now, Dergarabedian said.

“We’re in a box office lab,” he added.

Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

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