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A still from the film Roma. Photo: Carlos Somonte

Netflix films to get cinema release before they debut online

  • Three original films will have limited cinematic releases before streaming debut
  • A Sandra Bullock thriller and films by Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron involved

Netflix will debut three of its upcoming original films in a limited number of cinemas before they appear on the streaming service, the company said on Wednesday.

The move, involving Roma, Bird Box and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, marks a change from the company’s practice of releasing films in cinemas and on Netflix on the same day.

Roma, a black-and-white, Spanish-language film about a housekeeper in Mexico, will start playing in cinemas in Los Angeles, New York and Mexico on November 21 and later expand to other cities and countries.

Directed by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron, Roma will debut on Netflix and in additional cinemas on December 14.

At the end of September, Netflix had 137 million subscribers to its movie and TV streaming service. It began stocking its library with original films just three years ago.

Netflix had been insisting that any films it sent to cinemas be available to its streaming membership on the same day. Most large cinema chains remain opposed to Netflix films, and some prominent directors have objected to the idea that their films would be seen mostly on the small screen.

Now, Netflix’s strategy is evolving.

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“Netflix’s priority is our members and our filmmakers, and we are constantly innovating to serve them,” Scott Stuber, head of Netflix’s film group, said.

Roma is a likely contender for best picture in upcoming film awards, according to observers of Hollywood, and Netflix’s release plan for the film is similar to ones used by traditional studios to promote their art-house movies ahead of awards voting.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a new production from Fargo filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen, will start a limited cinematic run on November 8, eight days before its debut on Netflix.

Bird Box, a thriller starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson, will begin playing in some cinemas on December 13 before hitting Netflix on December 21.