Netflix has flipped the movie business upside-down — and flipped the bird to the box office.
Monday’s announcement that the streaming company paid $30 million to finance and distribute Brad Pitt’s upcoming flick “War Machine” simultaneously online and in theaters means that Netflix is now not only a major movie studio, but the distributor and, basically, cineplex at the same time.
It’s a throwback to early Hollywood, when moguls financed and made films, then showed them in theaters they owned.
The difference is that now, the audience is Netflix’s reportedly 60 million subscribers.
That’s a big crowd. So to many, this deal heralds the beginning of the end for the multiplex.
But for now, it means that smaller, less commercial films won’t have to worry about making money at the mercurial ticket booth from a fickle public.
Netflix may have to increase its monthly rate at some point — but still, for that monthly fee, viewers get “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black’ — and, starting next year, the new Brad Pitt movie.
When released on Netflix next year, Pitt’s military-political satire about an unorthodox four-star general will be able to reach more eyeballs than it might ever have using the old model.
Disruption is a good thing for consumers. The movie business evolved when TV became affordable in the 1950s. Same thing in the 1980s, when VHS recorders heightened home viewing.
Just as indie films now have video on demand — which has undeniably given new life and expanded visibility to small and foreign titles — less-commercial projects from major directors and stars won’t have to worry about being labeled “unsuccessful” at the box office.
The downside? The multiplex could increasingly become safe only for big-budget blockbusters, remakes and reboots.
Another downside? Netflix is also financing four Adam Sandler movies — and let’s face it, they’re less exciting than the Pitt movie. But what Pitt’s character said in “Inglourious Basterds” is appropriate now: “There ain't no way you gonna take them boys without settin' off some bombs.”