Netflix's "Bold" Luxury Theater Deal Will Help Court Awards Voters

Jamie Dornan in 'The Siege of Jadotville'

IPic will screen films like the Jamie Dornan starrer 'The Siege of Jadotville' but won't report ticket sales as theater owners cry foul.

Last awards season, Netflix's Beasts of No Nation was shut out of the Oscar race after earning only $90,777 in the few theaters willing to carry a title that debuted simultaneously on a streaming service. Netflix now is trying to avoid similarly bad headlines.

The streamer has struck a deal for tiny luxury cinema circuit iPic to play 10 of its films at iPic's posh L.A. cinema in Brentwood and the newly opened location in New York City's South Street Seaport neighborhood, but the chain won't report grosses to comScore, says iPic founder and CEO Hamid Hashemi. Such was the case during the Oct. 7-9 weekend for Netflix's The Siege of Jadotville, starring Jamie Dornan, which played at iPic in West L.A. to unknown sales.

Hashemi says 98 percent of iPic customers subscribe to streaming services, but that won't stop them from turning out: "Consumers allocate their entertainment dollars to in-home and out-home entertainment options. iPic Theaters are experiential and far superior to in-home theater options.

"Windows have been shrinking over the years, and we believe that it is only a matter of time before they are eliminated entirely or reduced to a few days on certain tentpole pictures. You can have a great kitchen in your house and yet you still go out to restaurants," Hashemi adds.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, and NATO chief John Fithian wasn't happy amid concerns about day-and-date releases. He warned iPic and Netflix to "tread lightly," prompting Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to accuse theater owners of "strangling the movie business."

But the iPic pact might be more about Netflix's awards ambitions and its battle with Amazon than anything else. Playing at an iPic qualifies a Netflix movie (like Christopher Guest's upcoming Mascots) for Oscar consideration and provides a prime venue for reaching awards voters while giving the filmmakers a theatrical release (albeit much smaller than offered by Amazon, which typically holds movies off the service for 90 days). Says analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners, "It's a bold move."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.