MOVIES

The Real Reason Great Movies Skipped Movie Theaters

Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” one of the best movies of 2017, was among the first high-profile auteur films to be distributed by Netflix. Financed by the streamer itself with the aim of boosting Netflix’s then-impending launch in South Korea, “Okja” premiered in competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival without much clarification on whether Netflix intended to ever put it in theaters, which prompted a rule change on the Croisette. It was eventually released straight to streaming, without commercial theatrical play anywhere in the world save for South Korea.

Incidentally, the film’s release in Bong’s home country may offer a clue as to why “Okja” largely skipped theaters altogether. At the time, Netflix still insisted that its few theatrically-distributed films must get day-and-date releases, opening simultaneously on Netflix and in theaters, which violated traditional theatrical windows of exclusivity — prompting the three largest theater chains in South Korea, which accounted for 93% of the country’s screens, to refuse to screen “Okja.” 

A similar thing had happened two years earlier, when Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” was boycotted in the U.S. by the AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Carmike chains. By the time Bong made “Okja,” Netflix may have calculated that an American theatrical release wasn’t even worth trying for. The streamer would eventually budge and start allowing exclusive theatrical windows for flagship releases like “Roma” and “The Irishman.”

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