Nolan vs Netflix: Why the Dunkirk director needs to get with the times – but our ed. disagrees

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Earlier this week, legendary filmmaker Christopher Nolan heavily criticized Netflix for its “bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films”. But is the Dunkirk director right to speak so negatively of the streaming service? We weigh in on the debate…

Firstly let’s look at Nolan’s comments in full:

“They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation. So they’re not even getting in the game, and I think they’re missing a huge opportunity. I think the investment that Netflix is putting into interesting filmmakers and interesting projects would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters. It’s so pointless. I don’t really get it,” he told Indiewire.

Nolan is clearly not a fan of Netflix’s digital distribution strategy but really he needs to accept the way film is heading and get with modern times. No one wants to see the demise of cinema and The Dark Knight director suggests that Netflix will be responsible for “shutting down theaters.” But statistics say otherwise, as according to MPAA, cinema continues to boom, as last year saw “the total number of frequent moviegoers increased by 2.1 million in the US” and “cinema screens increased by eight percent worldwide”. The fact is audiences still enjoy the big screen experience and it’s something that will never change, however audiences also enjoy home entertainment and that’s where Netflix excels.

Nolan on set of 2014’s Interstellar.

What began as just a simple streaming service for already known titles, Netflix now invest huge amounts of money into its own original films and TV shows, and the quality of its own content has improved drastically and now attracts Hollywood’s biggest names. The likes of big movie productions OKJA starring Tilda Swinton, War Machine with Brad Pitt and the upcoming Bright featuring Will Smith, are all examples of this, and maybe that’s what scares Nolan. But he need not be, as Netflix should not be considered so much a rival, with huge epic movies such as Dunkirk, which are built for the big screen and IMAX, audiences will continue flocking to theaters regardless. While Netflix will continue to satisfy the needs of those who enjoy films in the comfort of their own home.

Recently, controversy surrounded the previously mentioned OKJA, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival. Many critics and industry members booed the Korean drama during its debut screening, as they disagreed with the decision to allow the film to screen at such a prestigious event, arguing that releasing movies on streaming platforms delegitimizes their standing as cinematic works. They certainly have a point but surely a film should be judged purely on its merit and not on its form of distribution. It’s time for the film industry and one of its key figures in Christopher Nolan to embrace Netflix and accept how audiences choose to consume film in the modern world.

OKJA was at the centre of the Cannes 2017 controversy.

Our editor agrees more with Nolan though, as he also thinks that Netflix’s film strategy is poor. This is backed up by a recent report that revealed its most popular movies to be that of Adam Sandler’s, which are arguably low in quality and appeal to countries where they have struggled to get access to his films. Our editor also feels that Netflix should be using their often critically-acclaimed movies more sensibly, and therefore do much more than just give exposure to their brand – which can be considered a selfish approach as to get more people signing up to the service.

He further agrees with Nolan that watching movies at home is not really the way that cinema should be enjoyed and theaters need to be protected. Despite solid ticket sales, superhero movies dominate the box office currently, and we might consider that one of the reasons behind this is because in order to compete with on-demand content, film studios have had to play it safe and these types of movies already have a pre-installed fan base.

How will Dunkirk perform relative to other big budget war movies released theatrically, such as Saving Private Ryan? How will it perform relative to his own superhero movies? And if the numbers are down, how much of this can be attributed to the impact of streaming services such as Netflix in the way that it has changed viewing habits? Let us know your thoughts.

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