In 2019 Knives Out was not just one of the best films of the year, but also an original idea that turned into a legitimate blockbuster, earning over $311 million against a $40 million budget. Those kinds of mid-budget success stories almost don’t happen anymore, and sequel talk began almost immediately following the film’s holiday-season success. There are two interesting developments, though, and that is that the Knives Out sequel will actually be sequels, plural, as Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig are nearing a deal to make two more films in the Benoit Blanc Cinematic Universe. The other interesting development is that Lionsgate, the studio behind Knives Out, will not be making these sequels. Instead, Netflix is taking over, offering around $450 million for the two films. Knives Out is now Netflix’s latest blockbuster deal, and I can’t help but feel this is a crushing blow to movies theaters.
I remain convinced that as things reopen through the spring and summer, and more people get vaccinated, that there will be a honeymoon period with movie theaters in which we see record attendance and box office. I also remain convinced that won’t last in the long-term. I am still cynical about the theatrical experience because it was sh-t before the pandemic, and nothing about the conversations over the last year make me feel it won’t still be sh-t after the pandemic. All of the talk has been about the exclusive theatrical window for exhibiting movies, not what theaters are doing to make the experience materially better for audiences. No discussion of improved projection and sound experiences, hiring more staff to shorten lines at concessions, revamped auditoriums, new guidelines of cleanliness, et cetera. It’s just been a year of discussing why the 90-day theatrical window won’t work any longer (studios have wanted to break it forever, COVID finally gave them the leverage to do it).
Of course, there are good theaters out there devoted to quality audience experiences. But theater attendance was dwindling before the pandemic for a reason, and I have heard nothing from the theater side of the industry to make me think that, in the long run, that will change. Losing a newly minted franchise like Knives Out is another sign that despite whatever honeymoon period occurs, ultimately the theatrical experience will become increasingly niche, and we will watch most movies at home. Knives Out was the ultimate success story, an original film that packed theaters for weeks to widespread critical and audience acclaim. That it will not return to theaters in any major way—maybe Netflix will put it out in a handful of houses to make Rian Johnson happy, if he even insists on it—means less of that crowd-pleasing magic. I am stoked to see the BBCU in whatever form I can get it, but that the sequel bidding came down to three streaming platforms—Netflix, Amazon, and Apple—says pretty much everything about the state of theatrical distribution now.
Given the huge price tag of the sequels, Lainey fretted this could be a case of a sequel spending more money for lesser returns, but I wouldn’t assume that the $400 million-plus funding for these films is all going to increased production costs. Some will, sure, but Netflix will always strike these eye-popping deals with A-listers like Craig and Johnson for one simple reason: back-end points. In traditional theatrical exhibition, Johnson and Craig would be able to negotiate for a share of box office. Netflix has no box office, though, which is why they pay big stars big bucks. They basically pay those points up front. There’s no way this massive Knives Out price tag doesn’t include significant cash for Craig and Johnson.
As for the sequels themselves, no word on casting beyond the return of Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc. Deadline does mention that the sequel will shoot in Greece, and I am down with the idea of Benoit Blanc solving a murder in a sleek Grecian villa—imagine the colors! Stark white walls, scarlet red blood! Azure Mediterranean against Craig’s husky eyes! The shots compose themselves. They’ve done the murder mystery in the creepy New England estate, now do one in a sun-drenched locale, and I hope the next one is in a crumbling English manor house. Then do one on a train, on a boat, on a DIRIGIBLE! All I want to see Benoit Blanc solve murders on every continent, in increasingly bizarre settings.