Netflix Mulls Giving Alfonso Cuaron's 'Roma' an Exclusive Theatrical Run

The streamer is looking for ways to keep top filmmakers — a crop that includes Cuaron, Paul Greengrass and the Coen brothers — happy and boost its profile in the upcoming awards race.

In what would be a significant concession to a major filmmaker, Netflix is considering putting Alfonso Cuaron's upcoming Roma in theaters before it debuts on the streaming service, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Netflix is aggressively attempting to lure A-list directors to make movies for its streaming service, and it wants to boost its profile in the awards race after being largely shut out of the Oscars. But Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has steadfastly maintained that Netflix films debut day-and-date on the streamer and, on occasion, in a handful of theaters to qualify for awards. 

But as Netflix film chief Scott Stuber readies a fall slate that includes films from Cuaron, Paul Greengrass and the Coen brothers, he is said to be pushing Sarandos to make concessions for top-priority movies. Like Cuaron, Greengrass is said to want an expanded theatrical presence for his new film, 22 July, beyond just a token awards run.

Sources stress that Netflix has made no decision regarding whether to deviate from its day-and-date policy and debut Roma first in theaters for as little as one or two weeks. While that would fall far short of the three-month exclusive theatrical window mandated by major cinema chains, it could signal that Netflix is willing to move the needle to some extent. Because of the day-and-date mandate, most major theaters won't play a Netflix title, and because Netflix films don’t get significant theatrical releases, some filmmakers are reluctant to bring projects there. So any tweak to its policy would likely have a ripple effect throughout both the theater and creative communities.

Netflix declined to comment.

Both Roma and 22 July are making their world premieres at the Venice Film Festival this week as awards season gets underway. They are among no fewer than six Netflix films screening at Venice — including Alessio Cremonini's On My 
Skin and the Coens' The 
Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

For the past three years, the streamer has screened selected original films in a smattering of locations operated by the small Landmark and iPic chains, often to qualify for awards or to appease a filmmaker. Netflix has essentially had to four-wall auditoriums (meaning the theaters are rented). The streamer hasn't reported grosses for movies since its Beasts of No Nation played in 31 cinemas in October 2015, earning a meager $90,000.

Discussions are underway for Roma to be released in November or December in more than 20 U.S. theaters, including Landmark locations and possibly Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. In foreign markets, it will likely be seen on the big screen in more than a dozen theaters. 

Cuaron certainly has the clout. His last film, the Oscar-nominated Gravity (2013), grossed more than $723 million globally and won critical raves. The space thriller, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, earned him the Academy Award for best director.

Roma, a black-and-white, Spanish-language family drama that was produced by Participant Media, is a passion project for the Mexican director. The semiautobiographical film is set in Mexico City in the early 1970s. A foreign-language, black-and-white film is hardly an easy box-office sell, and Cuaron, like other filmmakers pursuing projects that might scare off a major studio, found himself at Netflix. Ditto for Greengrass, whose 22 July chronicles two harrowing 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway. 

Cuaron shot Roma with a high-end digital camera best suited for premium large-format or 70mm screens equipped with Dolby Atmos sound.

Roma will be a high-profile player on the fall festival circuit, and will head to the Toronto Film Festival following Venice, if not this weekend's Telluride Film Festival first. 

The windowing issue certainly isn’t going away. Next year, Netflix is scheduled to release Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, as well as the $170 million action spectacle Six Underground, starring Ryan Reynolds. If Cuaron or Greengrass get a meaningful theatrical release before debuting on the service, other filmmakers are sure to ask for the same.