Netflix is cutting off its nose to spite its face by keeping ‘Knives Out’ away from cinemas
(Credit: Netflix)


Netflix is cutting off its nose to spite its face by keeping ‘Knives Out’ away from cinemas

It’s right there in the numbers that Knives Out instantly became one of the most valuable properties Netflix has at its disposal when Glass Onion premiered on streaming in December 2023, but the evidence is also there that the platform isn’t capitalising on or maximising its full cultural and cinematic potential.

Rian Johnson’s love letter to the whodunnit was a huge success when it debuted exclusively on the big screen in November 2019, recouping its $40million budget almost eight times over at the box office. It earned an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Original Screenplay’, Golden Globe nods for ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Actor’ for Daniel Craig, and ‘Best Actress’ for Ana de Armas in the ‘Musical or Comedy’ category.

The star-studded tale of treachery, deceit, and subterfuge was tailor-made for the silver screen, and thanks to the twist-heavy nature of the genre at large, the first time watching a top-tier whodunit is always the best. When caught in a crowded auditorium where the audience gaps and guffaws as one, it’s a much more immersive and communal experience that enhances the storytelling sleight-of-hand to no end.

When the rights to the property became up for grabs, Netflix forked out a mind-boggling $469million for the privilege of distributing two sequels. It’s a curiously high number, considering the combined budgets for Glass Onion and Wake Up Dead Man aren’t going to come close to reaching even half of that number.

Once again, Johnson received an Oscar nomination for his script, with Knives Out and Craig again in the running for ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Actor’ at the Golden Globes. Netflix even tested the waters to see how it would fare in cinemas, and it would be an understatement to say the results spoke for themselves.

The second instalment in the Knives Out franchise admittedly scored the widest theatrical release of any Netflix original, but it only extended to 698 screens over the course of a single week. And yet, it blew even the most optimistic projections out of the water by earning $15million.

The maths isn’t bulletproof, but if the average wide-release plays on roughly 3,000 screens in its opening weekend, then it’s hardly ridiculous to imagine Glass Onion pulling in at least $50million were it to follow the standard distribution model of its predecessor. That’s without even factoring in international grosses or positive word-of-mouth generating repeat viewings.

Instead, that was it, and Glass Onion could only be watched on a television, computer screen, tablet, or phone from the second it ended its limited engagement, which is the equivalent of Netflix pouring money down the drain. Or, more accurately, cutting off its nose to spite its face because the platform has no interest in allowing its highest-profile movies to enjoy a long and lucrative run at the multiplex.

AppleTV+ is open to the idea, as Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle have recently shown. Universal’s Peacock has also been known to debut certain titles day and date on streaming and in cinemas to enjoy the best of both worlds, which in the latter’s case didn’t do a thing to prevent David Gordon Green’s Halloween sequels or video game adaptation Five Nights at Freddy’s from enjoying bumper opening weekends.

Other competitors in the streaming wars have been happy to grant full-fledged theatrical runs to their most prestigious or potentially lucrative movies, but Netflix simply isn’t interested. That’s one of the major reasons why even its most-watched films and TV shows ever tend to fade from the cultural spotlight in no time at all because once they’ve been seen within the comfort of somebody’s own home, there’s no impetus to engage the conversation beyond the odd Letterboxd review or the social media reaction.

If the first Knives Out comfortably cleared $300million in ticket sales, then there’s every chance Glass Onion would have fared significantly better, if only for the reason that sequels to popular hits almost always tend to out-earn their immediate predecessor. Netflix touted that it had become the fourth most popular film in the streamer’s history after accruing 280million viewing hours in its first four weeks, but in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t mean much.

A talented filmmaker orchestrating a murder mystery with an array of top talent among the culprits conspiring to repeatedly pull the rug out from under the audience shouldn’t be enjoyed by one, two, three, or more single-digit combinations of people at a time. It’s the essence of the cinema experience to be caught off-guard by a riveting thriller, but even when there’s money to be made, Netflix has ensured that it’s not going to be enjoyed that way.