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Netflix’s ‘Roma,’ ‘Ballad of Buster Scruggs,’ ‘Bird Box’ Get Exclusive Theatrical Releases

Netflix will release three major award contenders exclusively in theaters before debuting them on the streaming service.

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” considered to be an Oscar favorite, will receive the longest of these theatrical engagements. The film will be in cinemas for roughly three weeks, beginning on Nov. 21, before debuting on the streamer on Dec. 14. The other movies, the Coen brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” and Susanne Bier’s “Bird Box,” will have one-week exclusive theatrical runs.

“There’s been an overwhelming response to all of our films this festival season, including ‘Outlaw King,’ which will be in theaters and on Netflix next week, and this plan is building on that momentum. Netflix’s priority is our members and our filmmakers, and we are constantly innovating to serve them,” said Netflix film chief Scott Stuber.

The move is something of a concession for the new media player, which had previously been dismissive of theatrical windows, with Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos previously suggesting that exclusive cinema runs were anachronistic. The announcement comes after months of negotiations between Netflix and theater owners. The streaming giant was hesitant to cede too much ground to exhibitors, because it maintains that its first responsibility is to its 137 million subscribers — the people who pay a monthly fee to see premium content. At the same time, major theater chains such as Regal and AMC refused to show Netflix movies unless they were held back from appearing on the streaming site for roughly 90 days, the typical window for a wide release movie. It is unclear if Netflix was able to convert any chains by offering some exclusivity.

The National Association of Theatre Owners, the exhibition industry’s lobbying arm, didn’t seem impressed with the move.

“This halfway gesture will fail to satisfy theatrical audiences, filmmakers and Netflix subscribers,” the group said in a statement, adding, “Netflix has yet to learn that it isn’t theatrical vs streaming – it’s theatrical and streaming, properly sequenced.”

The streaming service likely did itself a service with a filmmaking community that still prefers to have its movies seen on the big screen and with Oscar voters who revere the cinematic experience. Netflix has become a haven for top directing talent, such as Cuaron, Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), David Mackenzie (“Outlaw King”), and Martin Scorsese (the upcoming “The Irishman”), because it promised healthy budgets for challenging movies that other studios might have deemed too uncommercial to produce. Adding a theatrical release component should enable the company to keep attracting big-name directors.

Roma,” which is produced and financed by Participant Media, has received rave reviews for its story about a Mexico City family grappling with a politically and emotionally tumultuous time. It will open in limited release in Los Angeles, New York, and Mexico. Additional engagements in U.S. cities and London will begin Nov. 29, with other top U.S. markets and international territories continuing to roll out beginning Dec. 7. Even after the film debuts on Netflix on Dec. 14, it will keep expanding its theatrical release in the U.S. and international markets. In total, the drama will be theatrically released in over 20 territories globally with 70mm presentations also being planned during its theatrical release. The movie may be one of Netflix’s widest releases, topping the previous high set by “22 July,” which showed on roughly 100 screens around the world.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” an anthology Western with Liam Neeson and Zoe Kazan, will have exclusive limited theatrical engagements starting Nov. 8 in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London. The pic will be released globally on Netflix on Nov. 16 and will have an expanded theatrical release in additional U.S. cities, Toronto, and theaters throughout Europe.

Bird Box,” a survival story starring Sandra Bullock, will have exclusive limited theatrical engagements starting Dec. 13 in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London. The film will be released globally on Netflix on Dec. 21 and will have an expanded theatrical release in additional theaters in the U.S., Europe, and throughout Europe.

Netflix is also planning awards-season campaigns for several films that have already debuted, a group that includes “22 July,” Tamara Jenkins’ dramedy “Private Life,” and “The Kindergarten Teacher” with Maggie Gyllenhaal.

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