Over the last few years, the theatrical experience has seen a significant evolution. Instead of films coming exclusively to theaters, we’ve seen studios and executives experiment with how a film should be released to the public. With the recent success of Five Nights At Freddy’s and The Killer, let’s talk about this new trend known as the simultaneous release.
As we all know, since the dawn of time (or at least the 1885) films have been filmed and screened in a theater in front of a crowd. Sure this was originally because the technology at the time only made it possible to display film on a large screen or in small personal viewing devices, which died off once theaters took off. Speaking of, theaters would be the sole way for people to see films. This would continue to be the dominant strategy until the release of home video, where now audiences could bring the cinemas to their home via a VCR, Betamax, or Laserdisc for the real connoisseurs. The fact that movies could now be viewed at home was initially thought to be the one thing that would kill theatres, but it instead provided a new form of revenue for filmmakers. This overall proved positive for the industry, however, even this form of media consumption would soon die out to the next trend, streaming movies over the internet.
Enter the modern era, or to put it specifically, 2019 to now. Most streaming platforms have grown in popularity enough to give them the confidence (and financial/logical need to have content on said streaming platform) to produce their own films. Netflix quickly jumped on this train making movies exclusively for streaming, while also producing films that would get a very limited theatrical run before uploading it online. With studios like Warner Bros, the owners of HBO Max or MAX now, they would go the route of distributing a film and then putting on Max at an accelerated rate. This was, fine. Theatres were still holding on pretty strong and streaming was there adding just another way to enjoy new upcoming films. However, the world will forever be changed with…that thing that happened in 2020.
With the global pandemic, theatres were forced to close down completely, thus leading to the ever-important question: How was anyone going to see movies now? Enter, the simultaneous release. What would happen if studios shot and edited an entire film, then released the movie on streaming and in theaters (in a limited capacity of course)? This plan was only used by one studio that being Warner Bros, who would receive a ton of backlash from the production studios for pulling this stunt. Now, for the time, this was a novel idea. This allowed the studios and stars the ability to have their movie shown and gave the fledgling HBO Max a boost in content and notoriety as the only place to see new movies like Dune, Godzilla vs Kong, and Wonder Woman 1984.
However, this was considered a “temporary” endeavor and would, in theory, slowly die off once people could go back to theatres. Now in 2023, we’ve reached an interesting intersection. Few films are actually simultaneously released, the most notable of this year being the anticipated horror film Five Nights at Freddy’s which was simultaneously released in theatres and on Peacock, the streaming platform developed by NBCUniversal. Based on the hit video game franchise, this film proved to be a pretty sizable box-office hit grossing $80 million on its opening weekend. However, this would only be half the story, with the film, as it was also the most-watched title on Peacock ever. Just after this, Netflix unveiled David Fincher’s latest film The Killer, which will be in theaters for about a week before being released on streaming. So is this a modern strategy for films?
Well, this is hard to say. Five Nights At Freddy’s seemed to lose very little box office over the streaming release. Additionally, both parties seemed to really benefit from this. The film probably got a pretty decent deal signing over the streaming rights to Peacock, not to mention the decent-sized box office. So what’s stopping other films from doing this same thing?
The obvious answer is… studios are already afraid of releasing a box office bomb, especially after nearly 2 years of financial nightmares. So the idea of intentionally doing something to make a film lose money from the gamble that is the modern-day box office seems pretty straightforward. Plus with some movies getting to the triple-digit millions of dollars, there’s no way to make that money back on a streaming platform.
The benefit of the simultaneous release seems to be the ability to make the film more visible to the public. This is great for the creatives of a film, who want as many people to see their art as possible. Not to mention streaming platform gets content to attract new customers or keep already existing viewers subscribed for longer. One of the other reasons these streamers try to release these films to theaters is to get Oscar nominations. Due to rules in how films can qualify for an Acadamy Award, they must be released to at least a couple of theaters, so as to seem like a “real” movie. Netflix has been one of the biggest champions of this, even though they have yet to win a Best Picture Award, losing to Apple TV+.
It seems that the only films that can viably succeed from the simultaneous release are mid to low-budget films. In this scenario, the film doesn’t need to make a huge box office splash, just enough to cover the base cost, and if it does turn out to be a hit, it becomes a huge win both financially and culturally. Five Nights At Freddy’s proved to be the right film to benefit from this, and will probably not be the last. However, the simultaneous release is no cakewalk for distributors. They not only need to select a film with a modest budget but also one that has just enough appeal to possibly catch the attention of a wider audience. It’s a gamble for sure, but this could be a viable future for mid-budget films to be both seen and make a decent penny.