By Joey Nolfi
November 01, 2018 at 02:08 PM EDT
  • Movie

Netflix is approaching the upcoming awards season with a new rollout strategy for its most prominent horses in the Oscar race, as three of its major year-end hopefuls will mount exclusive theatrical runs before releasing on the company’s streaming platform.

According to Netflix film chief Scott Stuber, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, the Coen brothers’ anthology western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Sandra Bullock’s Susanne Bier-directed book adaptation Bird Box (set for a high profile AFI Fest debut next week) will hit theaters prior to their scheduled digital premieres.

“There’s been an overwhelming response to all of our films this festival season, including Outlaw King, which will be in theaters and on Netflix next week, and this plan is building on that momentum,” Stuber said in a press release of the company’s plan, which differs from its previous strategy of withholding major theatrical pushes for its awards prospectives in service of its nearly 140 million streaming subscribers. “Netflix’s priority is our members and our filmmakers, and we are constantly innovating to serve them. Our members benefit from having the best quality films from world class filmmakers and our filmmakers benefit by being able to share their artistry with the largest possible audience in over 190 countries worldwide.”

Widely expected to land the company its first best picture nod at the Oscars, Roma (a semi-autobiographical tale of a middle-class family enduring personal and societal upheaval in 1970s Mexico City that earned enthusiastic reaction from critics on the fall festival circuit) is set for a limited theatrical bow in Los Angeles, New York, and Cuarón’s home region of Mexico on Nov. 21, with openings in London and additional U.S. cities slated for Nov. 29. Further international territories will get the film beginning Dec. 7, with continued expansion to more than 20 territories globally with 70mm presentations pushing past the project’s Dec. 14 Netflix streaming date.

Starring Liam Neeson, James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits, and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs enters limited release on Nov. 8 in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London before hitting Netflix on Nov. 16. The film will then broaden its release to more domestic screens as well as others in Toronto and Europe.

Bird Box will follow up its Nov. 12 AFI premiere with a limited release on Dec. 13 in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London before its Dec. 21 global Netflix bow. It is also expected to expand throughout North America and Europe in the new year.

Though several of the streaming giant’s documentary features have previously landed nominations at the Oscars, last year’s competitive doping film Icarus became Netflix’s first feature to score a victory in the category. On the fiction side, Netflix has yet to land a film in the best picture race.

Despite critical raves for past contenders like 2015’s Beasts of No Nation and 2017’s Angelina Jolie-directed literary adaptation First They Killed My Father, the closest Netflix has come to shepherding a best picture contender into the conversation was last year with Dee Rees’ Mudbound, which notched two above-the-line nominations for Mary J. Blige’s supporting performance and the film’s adapted screenplay on top of two technical nods for cinematography and original music.

Netflix has clashed with major exhibitors and film festivals over its release strategy in the recent past, having backed out of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival earlier this year after the prestigious cinema event announced it wouldn’t host screenings for films that did not commit to being released in French movie theaters.

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