Netflix, IMAX and the Weinstein Company are up-ending traditional release patterns for movies by debuting "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2" simultaneously in theaters and streaming platforms.
It's a revolutionary move, but the three partners may have trouble securing screens in the United States for the sequel to the martial arts epic. Two of the country's largest theater chains, Cinemark and Regal, tell Variety that they are refusing to screen any so-called day-and-date releases in their IMAX theaters.
Russ Nunley, a spokesman for Regal, said the company was committed to presenting movies "on a grand scale," and would not be showing "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2" if it premieres on Netflix at the same time it debuts in theaters.
"While a home video release may be simultaneously performing in certain IMAX locations, at Regal we will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3-inch wide on a smart phone," said Nunley. "We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear."
James Meredith a spokesman for Cinemark was terser, saying, "Cinemark does not play day-and-date movie releases on any of our screens including the IMAX screens that we operate."
Other theater chains and a spokeswoman for the Weinstein Company did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in the past, AMC, has declined to show films released in theaters at the same time they premiere on-demand.
Theater owners have fiercely resisted efforts by studios and distributors to shorten the window between a film's theatrical release and its debut on home entertainment platforms from the standard 90 days, especially for titles from major studios and wide releases. In 2011, Universal was forced to cancel a plan to release "Tower Heist" on cable VOD for $60 three weeks after hitting theaters after several exhibitors said they wouldn't show the film. That same year, theater chains hit back after Warner Bros., Sony, Universal and 20th Century Fox announced plans to offer films via video-on-demand 60 days after their theatrical release.
IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond said the company was not trying to endanger traditional theatrical release windows and had conversations with exhibitors in the lead-up to Monday's announcement preparing them for the move on "a conceptual basis."
IMAX exerted its influence by convincing Netflix to change its original release date for the picture to Aug. 28, 2015, a weekend at the end of the summer that historically has been one of the slowest for ticket sales.
"As the world changes we have a duty to experiment with different things," said Gelfond. "We knew that not everybody would support it. However, we felt that the ability to provide alternative content at a time of year when there is not a lot of great product coming in from the studios helps both our exhibition partners and consumers."
Gelfond said he expects some U.S. chains will play the "Crouching Tiger" sequel, although the big prize will be China, where the company will have 200 screens by next year. Internationally, 60% of its revenue comes from overseas.
"It's a modestly budgeted film that could do well in Asia," said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. "It's a great deal for IMAX in China where Netflix doesn't operate."
Theater owners won't be forced to show the picture. IMAX has certain contractual rights that could require exhibitors to play its endorsed content but in this instance has decided to waive them because of the sensitivity around windowing, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation.
"We're not challenging windows," said Gelfond. "We're providing alternative content."
"I personally am convinced a number of exhibitors will play it and view it as a constructive test to supplement their business," he added.
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