Netflix, Imax and the Weinstein Co. are upending traditional release patterns for movies by debuting “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2” simultaneously in theaters and on streaming platforms.
It’s a revolutionary move, but the three partners may have trouble securing screens in the United States for the sequel to the martial-arts epic. Four of the largest theater chains in the U.S., including AMC, Cinemark, Carmike and Regal, tell Variety that they are refusing to screen any so-called day-and-date releases in their Imax theaters.
AMC Entertainment, the largest IMAX theater operator in the world, is the latest exhibitor to reject “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2.”
In a joint statement with Chinese parent company, Wanda, they said: “No one has approached us to license this made-for-video sequel in the U.S. or China, so one must assume the screens IMAX committed are in science centers and aquariums.”
They’re joined by Cineplex, Canada’s largest chain, and Cineworld, Europe’s second largest network of theaters, which are also refusing to show the second “Crouching Tiger” if it premieres on Netflix at the same time it hits multiplexes.
Russ Nunley, a spokesman for Regal, said the company was committed to presenting movies “on a grand scale,” and would not be showing “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2” if it premieres on Netflix at the same time it debuts in theaters.
“While a homevideo release may be simultaneously performing in certain Imax locations, at Regal we will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3-inch wide on a smart phone,” said Nunley. “We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear.”
James Meredith a spokesman for Cinemark was terser, saying, “Cinemark does not play day-and-date movie releases on any of our screens including the Imax screens that we operate.”
And Carmike spokesman Robert Rinderman said, “We are committed to an exclusive theatrical release for the enjoyment of our valued guests. We are therefore opposed to showing day and date releases at our entertainment complexes.”
Mike Langdon, a Cineplex spokesman, argued that theaters remain the best way to see a movie and that the theatrical release window would be undermined if it agreed to screen the film.
“We continually invest in our theatres to ensure they provide the best movie-going experience possible, through ongoing upgrades such as stadium seating, digital projection, reserved seating, UltraAVX, 3D, Dolby Atmos sound systems and VIP Cinemas,” said Langdon. “We believe the theatrical window is an important component of the overall movie sales cycle. Playing movies ‘day and date’ with the release to home entertainment is not part of our strategy.”
“We bring our customers the IMAX experience as the complete opposite of home entertainment, which can be found on all sorts of smaller, every-day screens like the TV or smartphones and devices,” a Cineworld spokesman said. “We believe that the theatrical experience and IMAX, as one of its cornerstones, should be kept apart from home entertainment”.
The three Stateside chains’ refusal to show the day-and-date release means the “Crouching Tiger” follow-up won’t be screened on 115 of Imax’s 418 U.S. screens. Cineplex has 20 Imax screens and Cineworld is Europe’s largest operator for the brand.
Other theater chains and a spokeswoman for the Weinstein Co. did not respond to requests for comment or declined to make a statement.
Theater owners have fiercely resisted efforts by studios and distributors to shorten the window between a film’s theatrical release and its debut on home-entertainment platforms from the standard 90 days, especially for titles from major studios and wide releases. In 2011, Universal was forced to cancel a plan to release “Tower Heist” on cable VOD for $60 three weeks after hitting theaters after several exhibitors said they wouldn’t show the film. That same year, theater chains hit back after Warner Bros., Sony, Universal and 20th Century Fox announced plans to offer films via video-on-demand 60 days after their theatrical release.
Imax CEO Rich Gelfond said the company was not trying to endanger traditional theatrical release windows and had conversations with exhibitors in the lead-up to Monday’s announcement preparing them for the move on “a conceptual basis.”
Imax exerted its influence by convincing Netflix to change its original release date for the picture to Aug. 28, a weekend at the end of the summer that historically has been one of the slowest for ticket sales.
“As the world changes we have a duty to experiment with different things,” Gelfond said. “We knew that not everybody would support it. However, we felt that the ability to provide alternative content at a time of year when there is not a lot of great product coming in from the studios helps both our exhibition partners and consumers.”
Gelfond said he expects some U.S. chains will play the “Crouching Tiger” sequel, although the big prize will be China, where the company will have 200 screens by next year. Internationally, 60% of its revenue comes from overseas.
“It’s a modestly budgeted film that could do well in Asia,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “It’s a great deal for Imax in China where Netflix doesn’t operate.”
Theater owners won’t be forced to show the picture. Imax has certain contractual rights that could require exhibitors to play its endorsed content, but in this instance has decided to waive them because of the sensitivity around windowing, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation.
“We’re not challenging windows,” Gelfond said. “We’re providing alternative content.
“I personally am convinced a number of exhibitors will play it and view it as a constructive test to supplement their business.”