Netflix releases Roma in theatres ahead of online debut

Alfonso Cuaron
Alfonso Cuaron

NEW YORK • Netflix has an Oscar contender on its hands with Roma, a drama about a Mexico City family from Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuaron.

The company thought enough of the film to break with one of its traditions. It has released Roma in theatres ahead of its online debut on Dec 14.

But, since then, the company has not followed the typical playbook for promoting a likely Oscar winner.

The film's run in a handful of theatres went largely unremarked and that was intentional.

Netflix even asked Comscore - the main company that gathers box-office data - not to monitor the movie's takings.

"Netflix has made the decision to not participate in the sharing of their theatrical box-office data," Mr Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said.

The company collects sales data directly from theatres, which is then confirmed and distributed to studios and the press.

But in asking Comscore not to track Roma, Netflix may have missed a chance to build some buzz.

"Traditionally, the reporting of box-office revenue offers studios the opportunity to tout their success while sparking a conversation about their movies," Mr Dergarabedian said.

Still, giving Roma a theatrical run is expected to help improve its Oscar chances, since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not usually consider films that debuted online.

But it is clear that Netflix is not prepared to operate like a typical Hollywood studio. It also does not share figures on how many people view its films online, forcing the industry into a guessing game.

Netflix's secrecy has not stopped industry watchers from trying to gauge the theatrical success of Roma.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, it was estimated to have grossed US$200,000 (S$274,700), trade publication Deadline estimated.

According to online ticket seller Atom Tickets, Roma screenings were nearly sold out.

New York was the best performing market for the film, followed by San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Roma was never expected to be a blockbuster. It is a black-and-white drama that draws on the childhood experiences of Cuaron.

The movie is showing in independent theatres, such as Landmark and IFC.

Major exhibitors like Cinemark Holdings typically do not show films unless they abide by the two-or three-month exclusive theatrical window the industry has set.

Netflix has put out advertisements promoting the movie's run, which began on Nov 21 in Los Angeles, New York and Mexico.

Roma also opened in London last week and is set to expand further early this month before landing on Netflix's digital service on Dec 14.

Cuaron, who is a favourite to win an Oscar for directing Roma, said he was thrilled with Netflix's distribution plan.

Nabbing such a prestigious filmmaker was a coup for Netflix's ambitions.

The question now is whether the Roma experience will draw more directors to the fold - or put up fresh divisions between the company and Hollywood traditionalists.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2018, with the headline 'Netflix releases Roma in theatres ahead of online debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe