Power Disruptor: How Netflix Is Getting Ready to Conquer Movies

Idris Elba/Beasts of No Nation

For TV Guide Magazine‘s first-ever Power Issue, the staff looked at the juggernauts dominating TV, from events to franchises to actors, producers, and other multihyphenates in show business. Here, we take a look at TV’s latest Power Disruptor. Plus: See the 20 most powerful Hollywood stars who do more than just act.

Netflix changed the way we consume television. Can it do the same for movies?

The streaming service’s first major film release, writer/director Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, is the inaugural test of its movie strategy. Beasts, starring Idris Elba as a brutal African warlord, launched October 16 simultaneously on Netflix platforms worldwide and in 31 U.S. theaters for two weeks, where it grossed just $90,777.

The movie simultaneously launched on Netflix platforms across the world. Netflix, which paid $12 million for Beasts, is bullish on turning it into an Oscar contender, which explains the limited theatrical run—a movie must play in theaters to be eligible for an Academy Award. (Amazon Instant Video’s first film release, Spike Lee’s Chi-raq, hits theaters December 4, also in time for awards consideration.)

Beasts is seriously in the Oscar hunt for trophies like Best Supporting Actor,” says Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil. “The film resonates powerfully with academy members because it feels so real while focusing on a hot international political topic. Oscar voters are snobs. They want the films they feel important and Beasts is loaded with an urgent message.”

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But the potential stink of Beasts’ small box-office haul led chief content officer Ted Sarandos to break his rule of never revealing audience data. He told Deadline.com that Beasts was the No. 1 movie in every territory opening weekend and was viewed by three million North American users in its first two weeks of release.

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Theater chains, of course, aren’t pleased with the idea of Netflix’s movies being simultaneously available to stream. But just as Netflix suggests that old broadcast and cable models are outdated, the service is looking to shake up the idea of first-run movies being available only at the cinema.

Sarandos is continuing to pay big bucks for prestige projects, shelling out $60 million for Brad Pitt’s military satire War Machine. The exec told us this summer that as major studios focus on blockbusters, he sees an opportunity “for character-driven dramas and interesting comedies.” And while Netflix is looking for awards via movies like Beasts, most of its film development is for populist fare, particularly titles and stars with worldwide appeal.

“We’re a global platform; we invest in it on a global basis,” Sarandos says.

Such was the impetus for the four-picture deal Netflix signed with Adam Sandler (whose movies remain popular overseas), starting with the December 11 premiere of his Western comedy The Ridiculous 6. Other popcorn flicks include the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend in February and the return of Pee-wee Herman in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday in March. An Eddie Murphy movie may also be in the works.

“These are movies produced with the size and scope of a movie that would appear in the theaters,” Sarandos says, though some, like Ridiculous 6, will be exclusive to Netflix. In that case, Sarandos says Sandler’s fans are “mostly at home and they’re watching his stuff over and over again. He’s happy to premiere the movie on Netflix only.” And Netflix hopes you’ll be happy enough to keep subscribing.

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