That enthusiasm was short-lived, stifled when Mr. Sarandos emphasized his commitment to streaming during last month’s earnings call.
Some of the large exhibitors were considering backing out of the deal after his remarks, according to one of the people familiar with the company’s inner workings. They remained only because they hoped a success story would change the top executives’ thinking. It helped that Netflix had committed a healthy budget to marketing “Glass Onion,” running commercials during “Sunday Night Football” and “Saturday Night Live,” and showing the trailer in theaters before movies like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ticket to Paradise.”
“We want as many people as possible to see it in theaters,” Mr. Johnson, the director of “Glass Onion,” told The Hollywood Reporter this week about the film. “And then we want it to do incredibly well when it hits Netflix — so lots of people see it and so it demonstrates to everybody, most of all Netflix, that these two things can coexist.”
Mr. Sarandos’s thinking runs counter to what other major studio heads now believe.
“I’ve seen the data,” David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Media Discovery, said during a recent investor conference. “A movie that opens in the theater performs five times as well as a movie that you put direct to streaming.”
Yet, releasing films theatrically is far from a sure thing these days. The U.S. box office is down some 32 percent compared with 2019, and the pandemic significantly altered moviegoing habits. Older moviegoers have yet to return to the cinema in big numbers, and studios are making fewer films, 36 percent fewer, in fact. One exhibitor said that if the three big streaming companies — Netflix, Amazon and Apple — released roughly 20 movies in theaters each year in total, that would help make up for the deficit and potentially return the business to a healthy place.
Until then, theater chains are hopeful that releases like “Glass Onion” and “Matilda” will convince the companies to try more like them.
“I’m hoping that ‘Glass Onion,’ even though it’s a very limited release, will deliver sufficient numbers that will certainly tweak some interest into doing something more in the future because they’ve got some amazing movies coming up,” Mr. Richards of Vue International said. “They’re moving slowly but I’m hopeful that there will be a change in thinking.”