On Friday, Criterion rolled out its monthly announcement of upcoming titles (set for release in February 2020). Alongside cultural significant documentaries (Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning, the film that gave the world the vogue before Madonna popularized it, and Antonio Gaudi, a Criterion staple finally coming to Blu-ray) and a Pier Pablo Pasolini provocation (the Terence Stamp-starring Teorema), came a genuine surprise: Alfonso Cuarón's lyrical masterpiece Roma, the first-ever Criterion release of a Netflix movie.
So what does this mean for filmmakers making movies for Netflix? And could more Criterion editions of Netflix favorites be on the way?
Netflix has released very little of its content outside of its direct-to-consumer streaming platform. Television shows like House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black have seen season box sets released after their streaming debuts -- and both shows were produced by outside production companies (Media Rights Capital and Lionsgate, respectively). Stranger Things has seen Blu-ray releases, in collectible packaging meant to resemble clunky old VHS boxes, but those have been exclusive to Target and are oddly special features-free. No Netflix Original Film has been physically released on DVD or Blu-ray before, much less by the vaulted Criterion Collection, which seeks to recognize only the most culturally and artistically important films of the classic and modern eras. Criterion prides itself on the highest quality presentation of their films and is known for their deep commitment to unearthing long-lost or newly produced supplemental material.
In other words: this is huge.
It's unclear whether or not this is a one-off partnership or the quiet announcement of something larger (no formal press release was issued on Netflix's behalf and Criterion hasn't said one way or another), but it would be easy to see them doing some kind of deluxe edition of Orson Welles' Other Side of the Wind, completed after decades of unfinished fragmentation by Netflix and producer Frank Marshall. They could even couple it with Netflix's terrific documentary on the film, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead.
Furthermore, it is totally conceivable that Criterion would work to release physical, features-leaden editions of recent films like Bong Joon-ho's Okja (can you imagine the behind-the-scenes footage they've undoubtedly got?), Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories and Marriage Story, the Coen Brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Martin Scorsese's brilliant epic The Irishman. The possibilities are literally endless and, while it might not make too much of a dent in Netflix's massive accumulation of debt, it could offer a new revenue stream that would ease some concerns at the company. And it's easy to forget that Netflix started out in the physical media business, sending DVDs and Blu-rays out to subscribers, and that that is still a fairly robust part of the business, especially to those in areas will weak WiFi signals.