Netflix VS Cinema: Should Netflix films be eligible for cinematic awards?

12 Mar 2019

Netflix has been in the runnings for the Oscars since 2014. They won their first accolade in 2017, but the majority of their awards to date are for documentary features. This year, the streaming platform received 15 Academy Award nominations.

With Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Netflix won the award for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography and Best Director. Cuarón’s film also won four BAFTAs, including Best Picture.  

In order to be nominated for these awards, Netflix had to debut three films - Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Bird Box - in cinemas ahead of their online debuts.

Netflix reduced the time frame Roma was screened in cinemas; they opted for a three-week exclusivity release prior to its Netflix debut, as opposed to the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

Roma was screened at cinemas including the BFI Southbank and the Prince Charles. But many Netflix films won’t get widespread cinema screening, which has led to furious debates about awarding ‘made for TV movies’ at cinema award shows, and the experience of watching a film on the big screen compared to on TV at home.

Netflix’s decision for a shortened theatrical release has led many high profile individuals in the world of film and cinema to debate the importance of the theatrical release window, that is, the length of time a film is screened exclusively in cinemas.

Richard E. Grant suggested that The Academy didn’t award Roma the Oscar for Best Picture, with the film losing out to Green Book, because of the organization’s resistance to Netflix.

Tim Richards, Founder & CEO at Vue Cinemas, penned an open letter to BAFTA Chief Executive Amanda Berry criticizing the organization for rewarding Roma with four awards at their recent ceremony.

Richards’ open letter stated that BAFTA had broken its own rules in allowing Alfonso Cuarón’s film to be nominated and eventually win awards because it did not have a ‘meaningful theatrical release’.

BAFTA responded to Mr Richard’s original open letter: “The Film Committee is satisfied that every film in contention for this year’s Film Awards met the criteria for entry, which includes a meaningful UK theatrical release.”

Philip Knatchbull, CEO of leading arthouse exhibitor and distributor Curzon in the United Kingdom, penned an open letter of his own (via Deadline) that addressed the issue of streaming versus cinema.

He is of the view that the two need not compete, stating that: “In 2018 we saw a growing number of customers engaging with Curzon Home Cinema and attending our cinemas, so it is not evident that streaming has to be in conflict with cinema-going.”

Recent BFI statistics do seem to support Mr Knatchbull’s claims that cinema is enjoying continued growth despite the rise of home streaming platforms. Our recent article explored the fact that not only are cinema admissions the highest they’ve been since 1970, independent UK Films have seen growth in the box office market share.






SAE reached out to Tim Richards for further comment, who said:

“Netflix (as distributors) should not underestimate the value and impact of a full theatrical release for the content it owns. We are hopeful they will be open to discussing how to reach a far broader and more engaged audience with exhibitors and consider carefully the impact the big screen experience and environment has on creating and profiling cultural blockbusters. Major film festivals should continue to differentiate between a “made for TV” movie and a first run feature film with a full theatrical release.”  

We also spoke to Carl Copeland, who is Digital Film Programme Coordinator at SAE Liverpool, to find what he thinks about the debate.

He said:“Tim Richards of VUE needs to understand the changing landscape of film and its broadening platforms. Alfonso Cuarón was asked this in the run up to the Oscars and his thoughts about Netflix undermining cinema. Cuarón said if he pitched a black and white, period film, with no star in foreign language every major studio would say no! This is part of the problem, VUE are endorsing blockbuster cinema but not showing enough diversity. VUE in Liverpool shows none to a very limited run in foreign and independent cinema and as a result consumers are forced online to Curzon or Netflix or indie cinemas such as Fact to see such films. Cuarón was given free reign and creativity to produce a personal film and Netflix should be applauded for giving artistic integrity back to the director - something we have not seen in U.S. cinema since the ‘70s. This is a trend other filmmakers have followed Alex Garland for Annihilation, The Coen Brothers for Ballad of Buster Scruggs and a huge coup is Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Netflix release, The Irishman, all of whom were given huge budgets and artistic freedom. Cinema is evidently broadening its platforms and there is clearly an audience for Netflix movies. If Richards wants to change this then he should start supporting Indie and World cinema by a) funding them and b) screening them.”

Carl’s statement highlights one of the benefits of a bundled subscription model like Netflix. As an article for the Harvard Business Review recently explored, one of the benefits of the Netflix model is that it enables artists to tell great stories that might not otherwise be a) produced at all otherwise or b) may only be screened in certain cinemas.






In an interview back in January, Cuarón said: “I made a movie that on paper seems very unlikely and very difficult. It’s a drama, it’s not a genre film, it’s black-and-white, it’s in Spanish and Mixtec. When it was presented, the actors were not recognizable. It was like something that could have ended in just one theater in LA, and one theater in New York, and one theater in several cities around the world. Does Netflix have anything to do with this presence? Yes they have a lot to do with this presence.”

In the weeks that have followed, the debate surrounding Roma has grown into a discussion about the relative merits of streaming films online at home versus going to a cinema and watching them on the big screen. The question of whether or not Netflix films should be considered for the Oscars and other award ceremonies at all has become a contentious issue.

In an interview with ITV last year Steven Spielberg said: “I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations.”

These comments were used in a series of recent reports that suggested Spielberg wants Netflix movies banned from the Academy Awards altogether.

Other high profile commentators including the actor Ben Affleck have shared their views. In an appearance on Today to promote the Netflix film Triple Frontier, Affleck was asked about Spielberg's supposed stance on Netflix’s right to inclusion in awards ceremonies.

He said: "I think what he was saying was he believes there should be a robust theatrical release for movies. It's not so much a debate about one company or another as like how long should a movie be in theaters to be considered 'a movie' versus television. And those lines are getting blurred. I'm sure you guys see it on the show, people are consuming on their phones, and on the internet, and on the TV. The business is changing. The movie business has changed a lot over time."

Yesterday Complex reported that Jeffrey Katzenberg, who co-founded DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg, revealed at SXSW on Friday that Spielberg doesn't plan to propose having Netflix movies banned from the Academy Awards during the annual Post-Oscars meeting after all.

Netflix issued a response to the debate via their Twitter account.

Their comment shows that another facet of the Netflix VS cinema debate is accessibility.

A Netflix subscription is £7.99 a month - substantially less than the cost of an adult cinema ticket, and for this price you get you access to lots more content. For those with limited financial means, or perhaps mobility difficulties or disabilities that prevent easy access to the cinema, it seems hard to argue with the fact that home streaming platforms like Netflix and Curzon Home Cinema are making cinema more accessible to all.  

We hope that once the dust settles, directors and cinema executives across the globe will come to recognise this, and work together to make future award ceremonies more diverse and representative of intersectional, international talent.  

Photo by Leo Hidalgo