Christopher Nolan Is Wrong About Netflix

During an interview with IndieWire to promote his highly anticipated new film Dunkirk, the talented director Christopher Nolan criticized Netflix for its digital distribution policy.  I think his vilification of Netflix is misguided.

Nolan stated, "Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films. They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation."

He went on to say that Netflix's model is hurting movie theaters, and he wants to see a plan instead in which movies have a 90 day window in theaters first before being streamed. He went so far as to compare what Netflix is doing to the direct-to-video business model of the 1980s and 1990s. He said, "Your worst nightmare in the '90s as a filmmaker was that the studio would turn around and go, 'You know what? We're going to put it on video instead of theaters.' They did that all the time. There's nothing new to that."

Nolan differentiated between television storytelling and the types of movies he makes, saying that "cinema is large-scale storytelling," so his films should be experienced on the big screen first, not at home via Netflix.

He has a point, but his comparison of today's video streaming model to the direct-to-video distribution model of twenty and thirty years ago is flawed. Back then, movie theaters still had a leg up; it was definitely a better sensory experience and much more immersive to see a film in an actual theater than at home on the TV screens of the time. Now what benefit would Netflix as a business gain from theatrical distribution? Home viewers arguably have high-definition large-screen televisions with surround sound audio systems, top of the line home entertainment centers, which in many ways are just as satisfactory for them, if not more so, than going to see a movie in a theater.

Nolan's argument would be better served by finding out how movie theaters and studios that depend on theatrical distribution can stay alive in such a media landscape by working with streaming services such as Netflix instead of just viewing them as the enemy. Partnering with companies like Netflix to give them incentives and entice them to do 90-day-theater-first-before-streaming plans makes more sense than painting Netflix as a villain out to destroy movie theaters.

I'd rather have customers paying to legally watch movies at home or even on their mobile devices than bootlegging movies.


Unknown said…
Although I find both viewpoints valid, the majority of the movie fanatic do not have a High end Television with an incredible sound system. I think that the excessive admission prices and ludicrous concession stand markups on popcorn, soda and candy bars is enough to keep me at home using streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Crackle and the many others. I also not going to pay $20 to see yet another remake or the 12th sequel to some multimillion franchise because there aren't any imaginative writers in 'Hollywood'. I think there are a lot of variables that should be considered in order to actually pinpoint a better way for movie studios to continue striving. I do agree that in these technological times where everyone is 'connected' the best choice as stated in this article would be to partner with one or All streaming services and get a piece of the pie.
James E.
Nick Leshi said…
Good point about the majority of fanatics possibly not having high-end home entertainment systems, but high definition TV broadcasts have become the American standard, so what I meant was that content on television today is much better than TV video content of the 80s and 90s, and maybe even better than some film projections of that era. I think Nolan and other critics are totally right that Netflix and similar streaming services are hurting theater attendance, but I don't think vilifying Netflix is the answer. How can studios, distributors, and theater chains partner with Netflix the way they currently do with Amazon for example? But right now, Netflix doesn't need a theater distribution deal for its content, so what's the incentive?