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Audiences expected Rian Johnson to deliver in 2019 with his sleuth comedy “Knives Out.” But nobody expected the film to become a runaway hit. In short, the film raked at the box office, making $311 million on a $40 million budget. And, of course, those numbers got people’s attention, namely those over at Netflix. In March 2021, the streamer reached a $469 million deal with Johnson to produce two sequels to “Knives Out,” with Daniel Craig returning as detective Benoit Blanc.
READ MORE: Rian Johnson Will Take On The Challenge Of The Third ‘Knives Out’ Next [Interview]
And that brings us up to date: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” hits Netflix on December 23, and with a small theatrical rollout as a lead-up. But was that a viable release strategy? According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, no, not at all. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Hastings isn’t entirely thrilled about the movie’s rollout, claiming Netflix left “lots” of money on the table by not releasing it in more theaters. For reference, a typical Hollywood blockbuster hits 3,500 theaters in its opening 45 days. The theatrical release for “Glass Onion”? Only 700 theaters.
Even so, that’s still Netflix’s largest theatrical release to date. But it’s not a sign of things to come for the streamer, as Hastings and co-ceo Ted Sarandos remain dismissive of big-screen releases. “It’s a promotional tactic like film festivals, and if it works well we will do more of it,” Hastings said in an interview earlier this week with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times Deal Book Summit in Manhattan. “We are not trying to build a theatrical business, we are trying to break through the noise.”
Still, “Glass Onion” broke through alright: the film earned between $12-13 million over Thanksgiving weekend, coming in at #3 at the box office behind “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and Disney‘s “Strange World.” Sure, $13 million isn’t the same as $41.4 million “Knives Out” made over the same Thanksgiving weekend three years ago, but who’s to say Netflix couldn’t have surpassed that number with a larger rollout? $13 million over five days in 700 theaters comes to a per-theater average of $19,000, the best of any film this past holiday weekend. Now, imagine the numbers if Netflix gave “Glass Onion” the supreme blockbuster release in 3500 theaters. That gives you an idea of how much money Hastings claims that Netflix left on the proverbial table.
But it’s lucky that “Glass Onion” made it into any theaters at all. Rian Johnson reportedly begged Sarandos and Netflix to give the film its limited theatrical release after the film’s premiere at TIFF in September. Sarandos and Hasting acquiesced to the film’s current one-week-only run, which will payout at an estimated $15 million. Not bad, but that number would be a lot higher with a bigger release in more theaters. Don’t expect Netflix to change its “streaming first, theaters later” tactic any time soon. However, given Benoit Blanc’s popularity, don’t be surprised if “Knives Out 3” gets a theatrical release much larger than 700 theaters.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” hits Netflix on December 23.