Netflix ‘Crouching Tiger’ Awakened Exhibitors’ Hidden Dragon

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Netflix has been revolutionizing the entertainment industry since its introduction, first on the distribution side and, over the last few years, on the production side. Now, the announcement this week that they are making their first feature film has sent shock waves through Hollywood. The plans announced for Netflix, the Weinstein Co. and IMAX to make a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel raised eyebrows, but it is the distribution plan which awakened exhibitors’ ire.

The major U.S. theater chains are refusing to show Netflix’ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend on their movie screens next year. That is because Netflix is planning to make the movie available for streaming on the same day it hits cinemas.

The IMAX involvement ensures that the plan is to show the flick on IMAX screens as an option (a “see it on the very big screen or at home” concept). However, American theater chains AMC, Cinemark, Regal and Carmike have all said they will not screen the film next year. Yes, there are other chains, but these four have 257 of the approximately 400 IMAX screens in the U.S. This would limit the number of remaining screens, which will impact the revenue generated by the film.

The reaction is not just in the U.S. Cineplex, the largest movie theater chain in Canada, and Cineworld, the second largest in Europe have indicated they will boycott the film too. Even though Chinese conglomerate Wanda is AMC’s parent company, Wanda has not refused to screen the Chinese-language film in China, since there is no Netflix streaming service competition there. There almost 200 IMAX screens in China should bring in considerable revenue.

The original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a surprise blockbuster that launched the Hollywood career of Taiwanese director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain). Planned for art house distribution, the martial arts film was made for $23.5 million in 2000 in Mandarin, with English subtitles. The first Crouching Tiger earned $177 million in the U.S. alone, earned 10 Academy Award nominations and took home four statuettes.

Just because the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a success, does not assure success for the sequel, which is expected to cost over $60 million. Sequels made several years after their predecessor struggle more at the box office because audience enthusiasm waned and interests changed.

Netflix rattled the television business, with shows made available for streaming soon after they are broadcast on traditional networks and its original series hits like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Many believe this move to be Netflix’s attempt similarly rattle the movie industry and its traditional release cycle. The current industry norm is a three-month lag between when a movie is released in theaters and when it is released for home entertainment use. It is widely expected for that timeframe to shrink to merely weeks in the foreseeable future. But, Netflix’ determination to release the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel in both arenas simultaneously has awakened the fight in the exhibitors.

By Dyanne Weiss

Hollywood Reporter
New York Times