The typically tight-lipped Netflix bent its rule about never releasing viewership numbers by revealing to Deadline that “Beasts of No Nation,” its first foray into original film distribution, has been streamed more than 3 million times in North America since its October 16 release.
“I think [it’s] a bigger audience than any specialty film could ever hope for, in its first two weeks of release, and maybe for its entire run. And we’re just starting,” Netflix’s head of content acquisition, Ted Sarandos told Deadline. “We are just thrilled with the total audience reach of this film, not just in North America, but the world.”
The film was the No. 1 streamed movie in all of Netflix’s territories: “This was No. 1 in really diverse places in the world — Japan, Brazil, Mexico, places where these films typically never even open,” said Sarandos. Netflix has 69 million monthly subscribers in more than 50 countries around the world, including 43 million in the U.S.
The box office numbers for the limited release have been disappointing, with the film earning just $50,699 in its opening weekend (in 31 theaters). But, of course, Netflix didn’t pay a reported $12 million for the film expecting to make money back at the box office. They have the big picture in mind, including the potential for awards attention and publicity for Netflix’s subscription service.
“There’s no theatrical revenue expectation in our business model on any movie,” Sarandos told Variety last month.
Directed by Cary Fukunaga and drama starring Idris Elba and first-time actor Abraham Attah, the film has largely received favorable notices.
But its unorthodox release strategy has created tension with theater owners. The film was released in theaters at the same time that it became available on Netflix. Major theater chains such as AMC, Regal, Carmike and Cinemark have all opted not to show “Beasts” since it breaks the traditional 90-day home entertainment debut window.
Even Fukunaga is on the fence about having “Beasts” accessible day-and-date. “It’s a complicated question for me, because I have to walk the line between being very supportive of Netflix, because they’ve been so supportive of us and the film, but also fighting to keep cinema a sacred sort of experience and one that won’t be taken away in the future because of a lack of places to do it,” he recently told Indiewire. He even went so far as to say that he “would love for people to see this movie in cinema for as long as they can, if they can.”
But Sarandos told Deadline that Netflix is just giving consumers the choice that they want. “If you want to go out and see a movie and sit in a dark room with strangers, it’s not an experience you can replicate at home,” he explained. “But it is a very good experience, to watch a movie at home in 4k, in the comfort of your living room. That’s the way most people see their movies…we’re offering consumers a lot of choices they didn’t have just a few years ago.”
Ultimately, the so-called feud between Netflix and theaters is overblown, said Sarandos, and consumers couldn’t care less. Besides, he explained, “to me, cinema is not a movie or a TV screen, and it’s not a seat in a building versus one in your living room. It’s the art of motion pictures.”