In a first, the country’s three largest theater circuits have all agreed to carry a Netflix film despite the streamer’s ongoing policy of not reporting grosses, resulting in an unusual Thanksgiving recipe.
Thanksgiving is more than a month away, yet Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is already feasting. As of press time, a seat map of an auditorium at AMC Century City 15 in Los Angeles — one of the busiest cinemas in the country — indicates a packed Nov. 23 evening showing of the Netflix sequel.
But Hollywood and the public won’t officially know what the film’s total ticket sales are during its one-week run in more than 600 cinemas, because Netflix doesn’t report grosses. Until now, the streamer’s foray into theatrical has been more of an annoyance than a threat since it’s had to rely on a patchwork of independent cinemas when giving its titles a limited run to qualify for awards and keep filmmakers happy.
That changed Oct. 6, when Netflix revealed that AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theatres will — in a first — all play a Netflix title, with AMC and Cinemark publicly suggesting that more such deals could follow. (While Cinemark did start booking some Netflix films during the pandemic, AMC and Regal have long been at loggerheads with the streaming titan.)
From the perspective of Netflix, a limited sneak preview a month before Knives Out 2 hits the service doesn’t take away from its primary goal: keeping subscribers satiated. And, in an earnings call Tuesday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said no one should take the deal to mean that the company is leaning into the theatrical business. “There’s no question internally that we make our movies for our members, and we really want them to see it on Netflix,” he said.
But from the perspective of studio executives, Netflix shouldn’t be allowed to block grosses, even if for only one week. “It’s the Wild West and there’s no level playing field,” says a veteran insider.
There’s no law saying a company must report box office grosses, but it’s industry practice. Real-time grosses from thousands of theaters flow into Comscore with the permission of studios, giving them and other clients a 24/7 view. Ticket sales aren’t just about headlines; they determine how many screens a movie gets and what support it receives from a theater. “We can’t go back to the dark ages,” says another executive. “Our business is founded on transparency and visibility.” (At the height of the pandemic, Warner Bros. and Sony came under scrutiny for blocking opening day grosses, and soon abandoned the practice. Comscore and Netflix declined to comment for this story.)
Insiders say Johnson and star Daniel Craig insisted on a high-profile theatrical component; ditto for Netflix film chief Scott Stuber.
Hungry exhibitors need product after a brutal fall. The first Knives Out, distributed by Lionsgate, was a box office sensation, earning $311.6 million globally. During the pandemic in March 2021, Netflix shelled out an eye-popping $469 million for Glass Onion and a threequel.
Guesstimated grosses for Knives Out 2 are bound to get out. All a rival distributor needs to do is call the chains. The guessing game on studio lots has already begun in terms of how much it could make. Some suggest maybe $6 million to $8 million; others think more.
It won’t be pretty if Glass Onion outshines other high-profile Thanksgiving titles. The holiday is one of the most concentrated moviegoing corridors of the year, and 2022 is no exception.
Other films launching Nov. 23 include Disney’s animated feature Strange World, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, UAR’s Bones and All and Sony’s Devotion. Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which hits the big screen Nov. 11, is expected to retain pole position over the holiday. (Fablemans is expected to roll out more slowly than the other Thanksgiving studio releases.)
Not everyone is concerned about the screens being handed over to Netflix, which has reportedly agreed to pay at least $10 million on media buys promoting the movie. “It’s not a true theatrical release,” says a studio exec, who notes that a major studio film opens nationwide in 2,500 to 4,000 locations.
Glass Onion’s total theater count in the U.S. is expected to be north of 600 locations when factoring in some smaller chains. AMC, the largest circuit in the world, is expected to account for at least 200 of those locations, according to a source. The film will also play in cinemas overseas.
“Glass Onion is a sequel to a big hit,” says another studio exec. “But [Netflix] can’t brag about the numbers, can they?”