A Major Theater Chain Has Opened Its Doors to Netflix, Giving ‘Army of the Dead’ a Nationwide Launch

Before the pandemic, a Netflix film playing one of the country’s top three exhibitors would have been unthinkable. Today, Cinemark was proud to announce that Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” will play most Cinemark locations May 14 ahead of its May 21 streaming release.

Per sources, it will be joined by other circuits for a total of around 600 screens. These include Harkins, Landmark, Alamo, Marcus, Cinepolis, and iPic. Of those, Cinemark will be the largest with around 250. Theaters will have the option of playing the film beyond the one-week exclusive theatrical run.

Beyond the significance of a blockbuster director becoming a late-breaking addition to an anemic release calendar, this represents a Netflix breakthrough. The company spent years reaching out to theaters and found major resistance from all but Landmark and a handful of other independent companies. While studios like Warner Bros. and Universal found nationwide availability even as they played films with shorter theatrical windows, or day and date, Netflix did few theatrical dates. Most were platform releases; if there was nationwide availability, it didn’t kick in until the third or fourth week.

“Army of the Dead” is different. Whereas previous Netflix theatrical bids focused on awards titles, this movie involves a Las Vegas casino heist in the middle of a zombie attack. Snyder is a brand-name director with deep roots in D.C. Comics and other genre franchises and most recently worked with HBO Max to release cause celebre ” the Snyder cut,” his reworking of his 2017 “Justice League.”

Budgeted north of $70 million, this Netflix film is meant for mass audiences. Like last weekend’s premieres of Amazon’s “Without Remorse” and Netflix’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” Snyder’s film is the kind of that, as a streaming premiere, makes exhibitors gnash their teeth.

Prior to this announcement, Cinemark played “The Christmas Chronicles 2” last November for a week, and had some dates on “The Midnight Sky” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” For the first time this year, it also included the streamer’s Best Picture nominees as part of their Oscar-weekend programming.

“Army of the Dead”

In its press release, Cinemark and Netflix indicate their anticipation that this will be an ongoing collaboration, with specifics undefined. Based in Plano, Texas, Cinemark is the third largest exhibitor but it’s regarded as the most financially stable of the major domestic chains.

Streamers like HBO Max benefit from the marketing awareness that theaters provide; studios like Universal are seeing strong PVOD returns after a three-week theatrical run. For Netfix, “Army of the Dead” will be more of the same. For Cinemark, it suggests a willingness to adapt to new realities — and with the ongoing shortage of top new films, anything that can draw audiences is a plus.

“Army of the Dead” will also tell future Netflix directors that, for the right movies, a theatrical release is still an option. Whether the one week early is the template, or whether theaters will continue beyond the first week remains to be seen. That’s secondary though – in this case, the playing’s the thing.

One thing for now won’t change. Sources suggest that grosses from this Netflix movie not be reported. It’s understandable they are risk averse, but if this does draw major crowds, it’s in everyone’s interest to get the word out.

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