Netflix’s Thanksgiving Release Feels Like A Trojan Horse

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will indeed get a conventional theatrical release, at least for a week. The Daniel Craig-starring feature, a sequel to Lionsgate’s $311 million-grossing (on a $40 million budget) murder mystery comedy thriller, will play in all three of the nation’s biggest theater chains, namely AMC, Regal and Cinemark for the week of November 23 through November 29.

It’ll play in other theaters in North America and overseas. So, the good news is that Glass Onion is getting at least a week of theatrical availability, a month before it premieres on NetflixNFLX
on December 23. The bad news is that it’s doing so on the one crowded weekend of the year.

Had Glass Onion offered itself anytime between early August and mid-September, it likely would have been seen as salvation for theaters struggling amid a distributor-caused famine/slump. Had it opened in the last week of October or the first two weeks of November, it would have been a high-profile offering amid a barren landscape. Had they opened it in the first two weeks of December, the same thing, with a relatively empty landscape between the holiday weekend and Avatar: The Way of Water on December 16.

But Thanksgiving? That’s already home to Walt Disney’sDIS
animated Strange World, Sony’s Jonathan Majors/Glenn Powell Korean War fighter pilot drama Devotion, United Artists’ Timothée Chalamet-starring cannibal love story Bodies and All and Universal’s Steven Spielberg-directed The Fabelmans. That seems like an almost willful attempt to undercut the films that studios are releasing *for* theaters.

Yes, the first Knives Out opened on Thanksgiving weekend (to a whopping $41 million over five days) in 2019. Yes, there’s a case to be made as multi-quadrant counterprogramming alongside the must-succeed Disney toon. However, the move seems designed to actively harm Netflix’s non-streaming competition, with a big, A-level theatrical release playing only for a week right as the actual ‘make movies for movie theaters’ rivals are releasing their crop of biggies.

Yes, Glass Onion will only play in around 600 theaters, in what is being sold as a sneak preview. However, it’ll get the most attention, the most media coverage and likely the most social media buzz amid a crowded weekend. This is for a film that has nothing at stake for its theatrical existence.

It’s good that Netflix is essentially using a semi-wide theatrical release to appoint Knives Out 2 as a big-deal Netflix movie. However, it’s only a big deal because Knives Out was a critically acclaimed theatrical blockbuster. It’s nice to see Netflix brokering peace with AMC and Regal, as Cinemark has been playing Netflix originals for brief theatrical engagements for the last few years.

However, that specific release date, both in terms of the sheer amount of theatrical competition and the near-total lack of competition for much of November and December, seems like a power move as much as a concession. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will play in theaters for a week. However, it’s the one week where its existence may do more harm than good.