Netflix first announced its intention to branch out into original movies in 2014, confirming a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, entitled The Green Lantern. It also announced that Green Lantern will be released via streaming and in IMAX cinemas simultaneously. Many big theater chains, including AMC, Regal and Cinemark, decided to boycott all films that receive such a simultaneous release on the channel, stating that it would not be worth their while to screen the movie when viewers could access it at home (or even on mobile devices).
Undeterred, Netflix has pushed its original movies hard in 2015, starting with Beasts of No Nation this fall. The film was written and directed by Cary Fukunaga (of Jane Eyre (2011) and True Detective season one fame), and you can now watch the first trailer for the film online (see above).
Beasts of No Nation is based upon the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala and stars Idris Elba as an African warlord. It tells the story of a young child named Agu (played by newcomer Abraham Attah) who is drafted into the civil war in his country after the brutal murder of his parents. Elba’s character serves as a mentor to the child soldier, teaching him to kill, as illustrated by the newly-released footage.
Said teaser trailer is harrowing, as Elba’s Commandant is shown encouraging the young child Agu to kill for the first time (in between flashbacks to Agu's traumatic past). Netflix chief, Ted Sarandos has described Beasts of No Nation as a “powerful film” and that much is evident from this short trailer. He has also stated that Elba gives a “career-defining performance"; given the length of the teaser trailer, it’s impossible to judge, but Fukunaga certainly seems to have captured the desperate fear that these child soldiers face.
Beasts will begin streaming on Netflix in October 2015, on the same day it begins a limited theatrical run in select Landmark theaters. (New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego.) This will make the film eligible for awards seasonconsideration, and Beasts of No Nation will also play at both the 2015 Venice Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival.
This film marks an important step for Netflix, which will be anxious to prove its worth in the original market after the boycott by major theater chains. Netflix reportedly secured Beasts of No Nation after a hefty bidding war, so the company will be looking to push the film as hard as possible, as the success of its theatrical release will set a precedent for subsequent Netflix original movies. Will audiences still head to the theater to watch a film they can stream at home?
Beasts of No Nation will be available for viewing on Netflix starting October 16, 2015.