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Netflix's 'Beasts Of No Nation' Release Strategy Highlights Oscar Ambitions


OK, quick - think of a company that has totally changed the way we watch movies and television. Actually, changed may be the wrong word because Netflix continues experimenting with different business models. People pay attention to its successes and its failures. On Friday, Netflix released its first feature film online and in theaters on the same day. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports on how it did.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: This strategy is called day-and-date, when a movie comes out simultaneously in theaters and at home. It's not the first time it's happened, but for a movie of this caliber, it's notable. "Beasts Of No Nation" is an African war drama about a child prodded to become a soldier.


IDRIS ELBA: (As Commandant) These are the ones, the dogs that killed your father. That is your family's blood.

DEL BARCO: Netflix paid $12 million for "Beasts Of No Nation." It showed in 31 theaters, and the opening weekend box office grossed just over $50,000. But director Cary Fukunaga says selling theater tickets wasn't the only goal.

CARY FUKUNAGA: Because Netflix doesn't necessarily need this film to be a blockbuster, that means they can be riskier with the content.

DEL BARCO: Box office analyst Phil Contrino says Netflix was obviously making a play for an Academy Award.

PHIL CONTRINO: You can't get an Oscar nomination without a theatrical release, and I think that's a big part of this, really, because they want Oscar attention for this movie. They know that Idris Elba's supporting performance is very much in play.

DEL BARCO: Major theater chains - AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike, known in the industry as exhibitors - refused to show the film. But movie consumer analyst Vincent Bruzzese says more and more day-and-date releases are inevitable as audiences expect to watch movies and TV shows at home on-demand. And he says Hollywood studios are watching how the strategy pans out.

VINCENT BRUZZESE: Netflix is kind of the guinea pig here prodding the exhibitors, trying to force the issue. Paramount, Universal, Sony - they can just sit back and wait. And in the moment the exhibitors give in, they're going to take full advantage of it. But they're not the one pricking the monster right now. They're just sitting back and waiting.

DEL BARCO: While he appreciates that audiences have choices, director Fukunaga says he made this movie for the big screen.

FUKUNAGA: You know, my fear is that not as many people go to the cinema with the option to see it streaming. But it also makes it an extremely democratic situation where if people want to see movies like this - movies that aren't easily financeable, movies that challenge their audiences - if they want to see them still in cinemas, they have to go to cinemas and support them.

DEL BARCO: Netflix doesn't release information on how many people have already streamed "Beasts Of No Nation," but the real success of this movie may come later this year when Oscar nominations are announced. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.