Christopher Nolan, director of high-concept blockbusters like The Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar, and famous defender of the old-school institutions of film, went on a bit of an anti-Netflix rant during an interview with IndieWire today.
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films,” he told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation.”
When Netflix does release its films in theaters, they usually get limited runs in select cities, and it makes all of its films available on its streaming platform on their release day. This strategy recently came under fire at the Cannes Film Festival, with members of the festival board and French film industry’s governing body arguing that movies without serious runs in physical movie theaters shouldn’t qualify in a film competition. But CEO Reed Hastings has said repeatedly that Netflix doesn’t envision a world where movie theaters don’t exist, and that he believes that the future of film has room for plenty of different distribution strategies.
Director Bong Joon-ho, whose latest movie Okja was boycotted by South Korean movie chains because of its Netflix release, has said in several interviews that the release strategy doesn’t bother him because a partnership with Netflix also comes with complete creative freedom and a generous budget: “The best way to watch a film is in the theater. But for directors who make weird films like mine, the digital studio platforms are a great creative opportunity. I do believe that the two [modes] can coexist.”
Nolan brushed this argument off, saying, “I think the investment that Netflix is putting into interesting filmmakers and interesting projects would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters. It’s so pointless. I don’t really get it.”
He then said, “The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition,” a comment which drew quick criticism from director Ava DuVernay. DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th was nominated for an Oscar this year and she’s currently working on another about the Central Park Five. She’s also a major studio director, midway through production for Disney’s $100 million adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. On Twitter, she asked Nolan, “But, what if there's no movie theater in your neighborhood?”
DuVernay’s point is a crucial one about the future of film. You can love and support movie theaters (as we do here, at The Verge!), and Nolan is free to personally care about theatrical releases, but it’s ridiculous to argue that there’s no value in Netflix releasing films for a truly global audience. Netflix’s model gives its 100 million subscribers, in 190 countries, access to movies at the same time, rather than the traditional system of the US or UK getting films first, and other markets waiting months. And many people who might not be able to afford more than one monthly trip to the ever-more-expensive movie theater can afford a monthly Netflix subscription. It also brings art films to areas that might have only one Regal or AMC. Okja may be better in a theater, but that assumes it would have even screened in Springield, Missouri.
Stating that this strategy is “pointless” mostly just exposes Nolan as somebody who is unable to fathom common financial and geographic realities.
Bong Joon-ho also pointed out in a June interview that Netflix subscribers are funding Netflix movies: “[Okja] is, after all, financed by Netflix users, and I don’t think we should deprive them of their privileges.” Nolan doesn’t mention anything about the rights of the people paying for Netflix films to be made, but he does offer this advice: “If you can find a way to work in the system, it’s a very powerful machine, with a lot of resources, and excellent distribution mechanisms.”
Nolan’s latest film, a $150 million movie about World War II, opens this week in IMAX, 70mm, and 35mm projections.