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With Its First Original Movie, Netflix Aims to Upend Old-Fashioned Film Distribution


Just as it transformed the television industry with original programs like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (both created in-house and released in one irresistible lump sum), Netflix is hoping to deliver a knockout punch to traditional feature film distribution.

The streaming giant will exclusively premiere Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend -- a sequel to the Ang Lee-directed Oscar-winner of the same name -- via Netflix at no additional charge to members, as well as in select IMAX theaters, next August 28. Netflix will partner with The Weinstein Company -- who will produce the film -- on the venture.

While The Green Legend marks the first time Netflix plans to debut a feature film online, it is also the first of several films that will be launched according to this strategy, the company said, "giving consumers and exhibitors around the world unparalleled flexibility in how, when and where they enjoy a major motion picture."

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Traditionally, films are released within a "windowing system," according to the The New York Times. This means that Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark -- the three chains that own a majority of the nation's theaters -- show films exclusively for three months before they can contractually roll out to other venues.

Though major chains might understandably refuse to buck this system, IMAX leapt at the chance to partner with Netflix -- especially given that The Green Legend's release date falls squarely within its wheelhouse, the company said, "at the end of the summer blockbuster season."

While the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon touted a budget of $23.5 million in 2000 and ultimately took in $176.8 million in North America, The New York Times says the sequel's budget will be a "multiple" of that. It is unclear how Netflix and The Weinstein Company will shoulder costs.

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But similar risks have paid off in the past. While some analysts balked at Netflix's $100 million investment in the first two seasons of House of Cards, for instance, others felt the company recouped costs in a matter of months.

"There is a big world out there, and there are many ways to exhibit things," The Weinstein Company's Harvey Weinstein told the Times of the boundary-breaking distribution model. "This is the wave of the future."

Principal photography for The Green Legend is currently underway in New Zealand, Netflix said. While the original film's star, Michelle Yeoh, will reprise her role, the sequel is being helmed by well-known Chinese director and martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping.

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