Netflix’s announcement that it will release the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” along with select Imax theaters drew strong criticism from theater giants Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres on Tuesday, as the plan potentially disrupts a business model built on giving theater-goers first dibs on big-picture productions.
In a statement responding to the announcement by Netflix and the Weinstein Company, Regal Cinemas said it will “not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3 inches wide on a smartphone.”
“We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear,” Russ Nunley, spokesman for Regal Cinemas said. Regal operates 7,341 screens in 573 theaters in the United States.
AMC Theatres, the largest operator of theaters with Imax equipment, said they also won’t participate in Netflix’s and Weinstein Company’s plans.
“AMC Theatres and Wanda Cinema are the largest operators of Imax-equipped auditoriums in the world,” said Frank Ybarra, spokesman for AMC Theatres, which licenses the Imax equipment in 147 theaters. “Only AMC and Wanda decide what programming plays in our respective theaters. No one has approached us to license this made-for-video sequel in the U.S. or China, so one must assume the screens Imax committed are in science centers and aquariums.”
At the heart of the theater companies’ response is the growing fear in some parts of the entertainment industry that the television experience is increasingly merging with moviegoing. Box office sales have been stagnant or falling for years; this summer was also a disappointment. The soft ticket sales are due to a number of factors, including better television technology in homes, shifts in tastes for movies and better alternatives online. Theaters have tried to lure moviegoers with plush reclining chairs, reserved seating and gourmet concession stands.
Meanwhile, television — on cable, broadcast and online — is thriving, with advertising revenues and new subscriptions increasing. Netflix, which has expanded most quickly onto the turf of television networks, has said it has ambitious plans to tackle more forms of original content.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend,” directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, who choreographed “The Matrix” triology and “Kill Bill” 1 and 2, will again star Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu-Lien. The Weinstein Company will produce the movie, which will be released simultaneously to Netflix subscribers and in select Imax theaters.
“The moviegoing experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement,” Weinstein Company co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said. “We are tremendously excited to be continuing our great relationship with Netflix and bringing to fans all over the world the latest chapter in this amazing and intriguing story.”