The long-simmering drama between movie-theatre owners and streaming services has once again spilled over into the Toronto International Film Festival.
According to TIFF’s official schedule, all eight Netflix titles that have been selected to premiere at the 48th edition of the festival – seven films and one episodic series – will not screen at Cineplex’s Scotiabank Theatre and instead play other locations. The 4,500-capacity Scotiabank is a key venue for TIFF, which books both public and press and industry screenings at the downtown multiplex during its 11-day festival.
The situation is a direct echo of the controversy that played out during last year’s TIFF, in which Cineplex confirmed to The Globe and Mail that Netflix titles were effectively barred from its venues due to the exhibitor’s long-standing disagreement with the streaming giant over how long Netflix keeps its original films in theatres before they are made available to subscribers at home.
Productions from traditional Hollywood studios like Disney and Warner Bros., such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Barbie, take anywhere from 30 to 45 days to go from theatres to digital markets. But streamers like Netflix prefer to have their original films play theatres for just a week or two before they are made available to home subscribers, if the titles are released in cinemas at all.
At last year’s TIFF, Netflix’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery ended up playing at Scotiabank after a last-minute screening was added to the official schedule. This was due to Netflix and Cineplex securing a rare mutually beneficial deal on the title, with the film going on to enjoy a limited theatrical run in Cineplex theatres across the country last November almost a month before it was made available to stream to Netflix subscribers. It appears that no such détente is in the offing this year.
“We support TIFF year after year as we think it’s a great festival to celebrate films and our filmmakers, however TIFF is ultimately responsible for where films are programmed,” Lindsey Scully, director of public relations for Netflix Canada, said in a statement.
Representatives for TIFF and Cineplex declined to comment.
In 2019, Cineplex first exercised control over what could and could not screen at its theatres during TIFF. During that festival, nine Netflix productions (including eventual Oscar nominee Marriage Story) only screened in non-Cineplex venues, including TIFF’s five-screen Bell Lightbox, which subsequently played the films during their brief postfestival theatrical runs and has since become Netflix’s go-to Toronto cinema of choice for its occasional theatrical engagements.
Netflix titles playing this year’s TIFF include the highly anticipated crime drama Pain Hustlers, starring Emily Blunt and Chris Evans; the historical biopic Rustin starring Colman Domingo; the buzzy sexual thriller Fair Play; the Benicio Del Toro-led mystery Reptile; the Annette Bening inspirational drama Nyad; the racial-justice documentary Stamped from the Beginning; the doc Sly, following the career of Sylvester Stallone; and the first two episodes of the series All the Light We Cannot See from Canadian director Shawn Levy.
Relations between exhibitors and streamers seemed to warm during the heights of the pandemic, when multiplexes were starved for content after Hollywood distributors either held onto films or released them through their digital platforms, and theatres took whatever scraps of limited theatrical releases Netflix offered them. But today, even with studios pulling titles from the release calendar due to the continuing SAG-AFTRA strike, tensions between cinemas and streamers remain high, with both parties at odds over just how to best exploit the theatrical market.
While Apple TV+ has begun partnering with traditional studios like Paramount and Sony to mount proper theatrical distribution campaigns for its upcoming films Napoleon and Killers of the Flower Moon, Netflix remains wedded to a digital-first model. (Netflix’s big fall 2023 bet, Zack Snyder’s sci-fi epic Rebel Moon, does not appear to be heading to theatres for even a brief run, instead debuting straight on the service this December.)
Last week, The Globe confirmed that TIFF and its lead sponsor Bell – which operates Netflix competitor Crave – will conclude their decades-long partnership after this year’s festival. This year’s edition of TIFF runs Sept. 7 through 17.