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Should Netflix’s ‘Glass Onion’ stay in theaters longer?

Two men and a woman lean down by a mini sports car at a poolside
Edward Norton as Miles, from left, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, and Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.”
(John Wilson / Netflix)
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“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” grossed an estimated $13.3 million over the long Thanksgiving weekend, a feat considering it was released in only about 700 theaters.

But some industry analysts are scratching their heads over what they say was a missed opportunity for Netflix to capture more box office dollars had it gone with a wider theatrical run.

The sequel to “Knives Out,” starring Daniel Craig, will end its exclusive window in theaters on Nov. 29. After that, viewers will need to wait until Dec. 23 to watch it on Netflix, which bought the rights to two “Knives Out” sequels, including “Glass Onion,” in a $450-million deal.

Netflix has long had an ambivalent relationship with the big screen. It has viewed big-budget movies as a key part of its content strategy to keep customers coming to its streaming platform. But its practice of releasing movies in the home at the same time or shortly after they premiere in theaters has angered cinema operators, who contend the practice has weakened their business and discouraged moviegoers from leaving their homes.

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“Knives Out,” the 2019 predecessor to “Glass Onion” released by Lionsgate, grossed more than $300 million worldwide and opened in more than 3,000 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

If “Glass Onion” were given a traditional movie release in today’s depressed marketplace, it could have generated even more money than the original “Knives Out” movie worldwide, said Jeff Bock, a senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.

“This is probably one of the biggest gaffes in modern film release history in terms of bungling what could have been made at the box office with ‘Glass Onion,’” Bock said. “In my mind, they left hundreds of millions of dollars at the table. If they can afford that, that’s great, Netflix — but any other studio in town is just shaking their head at this decision because any other studio in town would have loved to have this film in the marketplace right now.”

Writer-director Rian Johnson reteams with Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc for a “Knives Out” sequel that skewers the tech billionaire class with aplomb.

Some analysts say that if “Glass Onion” were in more movie theaters for a longer period of time, it would have helped generate even more buzz, plus help feed audience demand for more films — where production schedules have been impacted by pandemic. Currently, there are about 37 fewer films released this year so far compared with 2019, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

“The movie had a solid five days, but it wasn’t in that many theaters,” Dergarabedian said. “If it was in more theaters, it would have done, I think, certainly much more business.”

Netflix declined to comment.

But its top executives have defended the strategy.

The thinking behind the one-week theatrical release was to build buzz for “Glass Onion” ahead of its Netflix release, said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO and chief content officer in an earnings discussion last month. Running the movie during that time frame also helps it qualify for awards, he added.

“There’s all kinds of debates all the time back and forth, but there is no question internally that we make our movies for our members, and we really want them to watch them on Netflix,” Sarandos said.

Unlike many other Hollywood studios, Netflix’s primary business is its streaming service, which offers a large library of content including TV shows, movies and mobile games to its 223 million global subscribers.

“We’re in the business of entertaining our members with Netflix movies on Netflix. So that’s where we focus all of our energy and most of our spend,” Sarandos said.

Netflix plans to stand out from its competitors with a series of major movies in coming month. The push comes as Disney+ and Apple TV+ launch their streaming services and Netflix is under pressure to show why customers should continue to pay for it when some rivals charge less.

Still, some industry observers say that the film strategy behind “Glass Onion” illustrates how theaters and streaming services can collaborate to help promote movies in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Playing films in a theater can be attractive to talent who want to see their projects on the big screen. It can also help garner more critical acclaim and buzz, which in turn will help drive viewers to the streaming service.

The National Assn. of Theatre Owners said it was happy to see “Glass Onion” return to movie theaters.

This successful limited release serves as another step forward in how theatrical and streaming can benefit one another,” the group said in a statement. “Going forward, we believe that wider releases with longer runs can generate even more business, both in theaters and in home entertainment.”

The Los Gatos, Calif.-based streamer added 2.4 million subscribers in the third quarter, beating the company’s and analysts’ estimates.

Netflix and other streaming services are in an intense competition for subscribers and content. The company laid off hundreds of employees earlier this year after it had lost subscribers in the first half of the year.

Other streaming services are taking a different approach to how they release movies. For example, Warner Bros. Discovery chose not release films like “Batgirl” that were made for its streaming service. Instead, its CEO believes that big-budget movies perform better on streaming services when they show in theaters exclusively first.

The cooperation between theaters and Netflix on “Glass Onion” is an example of the disruption of the pandemic creating new business models that everyone is learning from right now, Dergarabedian said.

“We’re in a box office laboratory,” he added.

Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

The Wide Shot newsletter brings you the latest on Disney’s Changing of the Bobs and Netflix’s “Glass Onion” numbers.


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