Sam Mendes Wouldn’t Be Disappointed If ‘American Beauty’ Could Only Be Made by a Streamer Today

When it comes to getting theatrical films made today, Mendes suggested that epic movies like his "1917" are the way to go.
"1917" cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Sam Mendes
"1917" cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Sam Mendes
Francois Duhamel

After Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty” was released in 1999, the middle-class satire made $356.3 million at the global box office. With a thought-provoking script and stellar performances, the film went on to win five Oscars including Best Picture. Back then, it was exactly the kind of movie that was guaranteed a wide theatrical release — something that’s no longer the case as Netflix continues to release prestige films like “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” while cinemagoers increasingly favor franchises.

But Mendes said he wouldn’t be disappointed if “American Beauty” was given a limited release before dropping on a streamer like Netflix because such a platform would mean his film could be seen by millions.

The director spoke backstage at the Golden Globes after his latest film “1917” won Best Motion Picture, Drama and Mendes won Best Director. That film, an epic World War I story made to appear as if it was filmed in one shot, is getting a wide theatrical release from Universal Pictures Friday.

Mendes said he’s optimistic about the state of the film industry and said filmmakers have a burden to bear in making sure original movies remain in cinemas.

“It’s up to filmmakers to make films that need to be seen on a big screen,” he said. “I think what’s important is that filmmakers are ambitious and that they use the tools of cinema, SurroundSound, Imax … and every fiber of their being to make big stories for big screens.”

Such an approach will create movies that audiences will feel compelled to see because if they don’t buy a ticket, they’ll be missing out on a cultural moment, Mendes said.

“1917” is currently showing in 11 theaters and has made $2.3 million after being released last week.

The film’s Best Motion Picture, Drama win is a perfect microcosm of the industry today. It was competing in the Globes’ most prestigious category against four other films: Warner Bros.’ “Joker,” which has continued to prove that comic book movies based on established characters are among the most lucrative films being made, with a $1.06 billion worldwide gross. The other three films are original and all were released by Netflix: Martin Scorsese’s mob epic “The Irishman,” Noah Baumbach’s celebrated “Marriage Story,” and the well-regarded “The Two Popes.”

The company’s strategy often involves debuting a movie at a film festival, giving it a limited release for less than a month, and then finally premiering it on its streaming service where the vast majority of viewers see it.

The category is vastly different from 20 years ago, when “American Beauty” took home the Best Motion Picture, Drama Golden Globe. It was up against four other films, all of which were distributed by major studios.

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