The future of theatrical film distribution is unknown. Practices that might not have worked 5 years ago are commonplace today, such as movies opening via VOD weeks before they reach theaters, or enjoying day-and-date release structures to reach a wider audience. Recently, The Weinstein Company announced plans to partner with Netflix on a unique distribution model for the anticipated sequel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2. The news, however, didn’t go over well with everyone in the industry.

Regal Cinemas, the world’s largest theater chain, came out this morning in strong opppsition to the merger between Weinstein, Netflix and IMAX, which has agreed to carry Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 next August. Netflix, at the time, said that the sequel would be the first of several major films that would receive a day-and-date release on both Netflix and in some IMAX theaters.

Regal, however, says they aren’t going to play that game. In a statement, the company’s spokesperson, Russ Nunley, said:
While a home video release may be simultaneously performing in certain IMAX locations, at Regal we will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3’ wide on a smart phone. We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear."

Regal operates 86 IMAX locations across the country, and told THR that they will not carry Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 at any of those locations. Cinemark, meanwhile, chimed in with a stern stance as well, stating (via Variety), "Cinemark does not play day-and-date movie releases on any of our screens including the IMAX screens that we operate."

This is a difficult line for Regal and Cinemark to draw, as they are depriving themselves of potential content. It has been known in the past that Regal programmers generally refuse to schedule movies that have enjoyed a VOD release prior to theatrical presentation. This is Regal taking the next obvious step, saying that if a distributor like The Weinstein Company wants to make its movies available to a home-theater system like Netflix, then they will NOT be able to screen them in Regal cinemas at the same time or shortly after.

However, it’s worth asking if Regal will maintain this stance if this Netflix model is adopted by major studios like Paramount, Warner Bros., Universal, Fox or Disney. Not that this would occur in the next year or two. But let’s say, down the line, that the latest Marvel movie would be available on Netflix on the same day that you also could see it on an IMAX screen. You’re telling me Regal would still refuse to carry an obvious moneymaker on principle?

This is a developing story, with all sides taking strong stands, and the industry trying to figure out which way the wind is going to blow. What’s clear is that the way films are distributed is ever changing, so that smaller distributors can get movies like Hidden Dragon 2 or, say, Snowpiercer in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Will Regal eventually play ball? We shall see.

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