"Mowgli's" Lackluster Release Prove's Netflix's Distribution Model is Broken


Dear readers, I have to admit to a mistake a made in a recent blog post: "Mowgli" WAS, in fact, given a limited 3D theatrical release by Netflix that ended last Thursday!  I'm not proud of the fact that I missed this fact.  I probably missed it because I was off in Las Vegas getting engaged, and searching for a 3D release of a film Netflix sprung on me at pretty much the last minute was not something I was keen to keep an eye out for.  I noticed it in time that I could have seen it, but it would have coincided with a birthday get together to see "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" in IMAX 3D.  Although I certainly had more time to watch the latter in theaters and missed on my one opportunity to see the former, I think I made the better choice in the long run.

"Mowgli" has been getting unkind reviews by critics and audiences alike, with some even using it as a poster child for why we need to get away from remaking classic stories into gritty modern films.  Despite wanting to see it for myself, I suppose I will have to resign myself to the fact that I may just have to wait for a BluRay 3D release from Warner Bros. (which, if such a release happens, I will buy on principle).  Still, even if the movie wasn't worth seeing in any format, it still annoys me that Netflix thought so little of it that they basically dumped it without any fanfare.  If you saw this thing in theaters, you were paying attention more than most, as it was extremely difficult to pin this film down (and this is from someone who managed to track down "Billionaire Boys Club" and see it in theaters).

While this could be seen as a disappointment for 3D fans who are likely not going to be seeing one of the years best 3D experiences on the big screen (if at all), it is also a symptom of what is wrong with Netflix's distribution model overall.  Yes, they made a splash when they premiered shows and movies onto Netflix without first going through the traditional TV or theater channels.  Yes, it was a novel idea at one point that a major motion picture like "Death Note" and "The Cloverfield Paradox" would be available to view without having to pay for a movie ticket.  Dropping a whole season of "Daredevil" at once was really cool.  I remember marking my calendar to watch those things on day one.  Now, streaming has become this disposable thing.  Whether it is a great movie like "Roma" or an average movie like "The Christmas Chronicles," they all have the same value to audiences: $0.00

What's more, these movies are no longer 'events' the way they used to be; they come, they go, they get lost in a sea of movies that only have a postage sized stamp to advertise they are there.  For that matter, what is the difference between a big budget spectacle like "Bright" and the new Coen Brothers film?  Yeah, one of those movies is SIGNIFICANTLY better in terms of overall quality, but how do audiences know that when the price of admission (and the amount Netflix is willing to push it) is the same?!  Heck, what does Netflix even have to gain from promoting their original movies when they don't bring in any money?  Do these convince people to keep their Netflix subscriptions?  I don't know a single person who felt that an original movie like "Mowgli" was something to factor in when deciding to keep their Netflix accounts, but you can sure bet "Friends" leaving the service got people upset.

So much so, that Netflix was quick to shell out $100 million to keep the series for a couple more years.  That show is still popular because it spent years getting people attached to it, and thus people get upset when it almost went away.  If it does go, you can still get the series on DVD and BluRay, which makes that show powerful.  I can't think of a single Netflix show or movie that has this kind of pull.  Not "Mudbound."  Not "Orange is the New Black.'  Not "House of Cards."  Maybe "Daredevil," but they got into a pissing match with Disney and cancelled all their Marvel shows, so so much for that helping at this point.  The point is, Netflix needs movies like "Mowgli" to be in theaters.  They need them to be on disc.  They need Netflix to be a brand that is known for making quality movies, not just delivering content in a cheap and convenient way.

That means embracing movie theaters.  That means physical media.  Even Amazon and YouTube realized this.  Amazon releases all their stuff in theaters because they want it to be taken seriously.  For that matter, YouTube Red was itching for a hit, and decided to hold a theatrical premier for the first two episodes of "Cobra Kai," the one show on their platform that can be pointed to as a genuine success.  Thankfully, Netflix does have the chance to get out of their bubble as they prepare for a small theatrical release of Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman," which is set to premier next year.  Hopefully it will be an experience that shows that making people pay for something and getting attached to it BEFORE giving it away for free yields as many rewards as disrupting the industry!


Most Upcoming IMAX Releases are in 3D (Will it Last?)


I’ve written about it before, but it needs to be stated again: IMAX’s experiment with 2D only films is a complete failure.  Screening films only in 2D did not result in better ticket sales (as was the case with “Blade Runner 2049” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet”).  Neither did only providing a 3D experience hurt ticket sales (see “Beauty & the Beast” and “Venom”).  The only thing that determines whether or not a movie sells a lot of tickets is people’s interest in the film itself.  The format will not dictate anything in terms of sales.  So much so, that I still believe if Disney made a bold move and released “Avengers: Infinity War” in 3D only for the first two weeks, it would have had minimal impact on the films box office prospects.  I’m not actually asking for that to happen (I don’t believe in forcing people to watch 3D films anymore than I like being told I am more interested in 2D films), but I believe watching IMAX’s ticket sales rise and fall on the sole basis of whether or not people want to see the movie in the first place is both a blessing and a curse for fans of the 3D format.

It is a blessing because it shows that a 3D release will not hurt a film, no matter how much the movie sucks.  Where it harms the format is that it also shows that the movie will not be helped much by 3D, because the criteria of whether or not it makes money is based solely on whether or not people want to see it.  3D isn’t dragging the business down, but it’s not pulling its weight either.  For many it exists just to exist, and that’s not where you want things to be.  Never-the-less, the fact that 2D only releases have not saved IMAX from sagging ticket sales is a blessing in the sense that the company is largely going back to releasing movies in 3D for the foreseeable future.  We’ll see if this sticks; the company flip flops on the issue every few months it seems.  “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” were screening pretty much exclusively in 2D in IMAX’s (the latter of which is a shame, as that movie used 3D to some of the best effect I’ve seen all year), but the upcoming “Mortal City” and “Aquaman” appear to be scheduled for all 3D screenings in most IMAX’s.

The recently added “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will also show up in IMAX 3D (though this one will have half of its showings in 2D as well).  What’s most disappointing and strange in all of this is that of the three movies, I’m only convinced “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will do any sort of good business.  The other two movies are likely to get smoked at the box office, because competition is going to be fierce, and tracking shows that the general public aren’t into these movies much.  For that matter, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “The Grinch” has been switching back and forth in claiming the number one (and two) spot(s) at the box office for weeks now, yet neither movie showed in IMAX with their (natural) 3D formats.  It’s almost as if IMAX as a company is largely keeping the 3D for movies that aren’t successful on a financial level while releasing the box office hits in 2D only format.  Of course, this isn’t completely the case: ‘The Crimes of Grindlewald’ petered out quickly and “Venom” was a big hit despite itself.

The bottom line is you never know what will be a hit or what won’t be.  You also can’t assume that just because IMAX is passing on a 3D version of a movie, that that means the 3D version is bad.  The sad reality is I don’t think IMAX knows what they’re doing in this case.  Their stock is falling (trust me: I own some) and there’s not a lot to suggest it will turn around anytime soon.  IMAX is the one theater chain that plays the most guessing games with their movie’s formats.  This is because most theaters only have one IMAX screen, but I wish the company would play fair a little bit more.  Present the movie in the best format possible.  Don’t make guesses on how audiences will react to a movie based on whether or not its in 3D or not.  Or just keep the 3D, since most theaters ARE putting it on the back burner, and that makes the IMAX screenings stand out more!  Whatever they decide, it would be best to decide on some consistency, lest this game of whack-a-mole eventually result in more misses than hits.