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Last week, Disney announced that it was sending its hotly anticipated Cruella to both theatres and Disney+ subscribers 'in most markets,' but no one knows whether that will include Canada.

Laurie Sparham/Handout

How confusing are things right now for Canadian moviegoers? So confusing that last week, Netflix Canada’s Twitter account retweeted a trailer for the new Anna Kendrick sci-fi movie Stowaway – a Netflix film that won’t be available on Netflix Canada, thanks to international rights issues. It will instead premiere on Amazon Prime Video Canada on April 22.

Netflix Canada’s Twitter account deleted the Stowaway tweet after a few minutes, but the social-media slip-up was just the latest reminder that when it comes to figuring out how, when and where to watch new movies, Canadians have every right to feel frustrated.

A few other examples: Next week, the Frances McDormand drama Nomadland, widely tipped to be this year’s Academy Award champion, will finally make its way to Canadians via the Disney+ add-on service Star – almost two months after premiering on the U.S.-only streamer Hulu. Last week, Disney announced that it was sending its hotly anticipated summer titles Black Widow and Cruella to both theatres and Disney+ subscribers “in most markets.” Will this include Canada? No one yet knows.

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Meanwhile, I’ve had a half-dozen people ask me in recent days how they can watch the new Bob Odenkirk action flick Nobody at home. Is is streaming, or on VOD or what? I proceeded to break their hearts and inform them that, actually, the movie is only in theatres, and won’t be available digitally for three to four weeks (or maybe more) because of a complex deal Universal Pictures signed with Cineplex last fall.

And for a perplexing stretch of time, it appeared that Godzilla vs. Kong, potentially the first true blockbuster of the year, would only play Canadian theatres when it releases this week and wouldn’t be available digitally for about three months – despite the film being streamable on the U.S.-only HBO Max starting March 31. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Canada relented at the last minute and is now releasing the monster mash on premium-priced VOD (Apple TV/iTunes, Google Play, etc.) the same day that it opens in the few Canadian theatres currently operating.

On one hand, I get it. This is an unprecedented, stressful time for everyone in the film industry. The few exhibitors that are able to open their capacity-restricted theatres need fresh titles to draw in wary audiences, and you’re not going to get many folks if they can watch the same movies at home.

And the Canadian market is not and has never been synonymous with America’s. Film distribution deals vary country to country, and while the largest Hollywood studios have Canadian operations (Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal), many mid-level companies do not. The result is that different titles get tossed into different domestic operators’ hands, all of whom have different release strategies. Even before the pandemic, this could be confusing.

But there also needs to be a serious industry-wide reality check that considers the Canadian consumers’ POV. COVID-19 is hard. Figuring out how to watch a movie in Canada should be easy.

Why, for instance, did Canadians have to wait half a year for the buzzy Andy Samberg comedy Palm Springs to migrate from the U.S.-only Hulu to Amazon Prime Video Canada? Or two months for the Gerard Butler thriller Greenland to move from U.S.-only VOD to streaming here? It’s not personal; it’s strictly business, is the real answer. But those Michael Corleone-y words are cold comfort to Canadians who are just now getting used to the idea of VOD, forget becoming experts in deciphering international acquisition deals.

The situation only promises to get more confusing as the U.S. market continues to open up thanks to its flood of vaccines, and Canadians are left wondering when we might get just one of our two jabs. Already, Hollywood is prepping for a real-deal summer-movie season – one that exists (mostly) only in theatres. A Quiet Place Part II is premiering May 28. The ninth Fast & Furious film June 25. Top Gun: Maverick July 2. Will theatres in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, etc., be open then? If not, will Paramount and Universal take pity on Canadians and release those titles digitally?

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I cannot help but think this is all karmic payback for Canada’s smugness this past August when our theatres played Tenet, Unhinged and a handful of other movies weeks ahead of the U.S. Our cinemas were able to operate while New York and Los Angeles stayed closed because Canada was so much better at managing the pandemic. Finally, we were a top-tier movie destination! Oops.

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