30 films have grossed $1 billion at the box office. Netflix says they may be the last.

It’s not even swayed by Star Wars.
It’s not even swayed by Star Wars.
Image: Lucasfilm
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The idea of going to the theater and paying ever-rising ticket prices to watch a movie with “uncomfortable seats, people talking and texting, sticky floors, and a screen that keeps getting smaller” makes less and less sense when you can get cinema-quality viewing wherever you are with Netflix and other streaming apps, according to Ted Sarandos, who made his case in a Q&A in The Wrap.

Let’s stipulate here that Sarandos is biased—he’s the chief content officer at Netflix. He also makes a good argument. Up to a point.

“I think that what you’ll find is that subscription is a better way to monetize most movies,” he told The Wrap. “Not all movies but most movies. So ‘Beauty and the Beast’ may be the last billion-dollar movie ever. It’s possible.”

Except Sarandos is already incorrect in this assessment, given that The Fate of the Furious crossed the $1 billion mark last month, shortly after the Beauty and the Beast live-action reboot.

You might also be thinking that the next installment of Star Wars, one of the top-grossing franchises ever, will be an exception. Sarandos isn’t so sure. From the interview:

Are you saying [Star Wars: Episode VIII is] not going to be a billion dollar movie?
It may be. It might be. I’m just saying it’s going to be pretty rare.

In fact, it’s pretty rare already. There are only 30 movies in Hollywood history that have grossed more than $1 billion at the global box office—six of which have had multiple runs, according to Box Office Mojo. James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic became the first billion-dollar movie when it concluded its initial run in 1998. And it remained the highest grossing film of all time until 2009, when it was overtaken by another Cameron title, Avatar. 

More than 80% of the films that crossed the $1 billion mark were released in the last decade, as rising ticket prices and a growing international box office made the milestone more attainable.

The US box office has slowed down this year. After a strong start with Beauty and the Beast and The Fate of the Furious, the domestic box-office has underwhelmed on a slate of lackluster titles.

Netflix, meanwhile, has been producing and distributing more films, like War Machine, David Ayer’s upcoming title Bright, Cannes contenders Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, and Martin Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman. And it’s riling up cinema operators in the process. Netflix movies premiere online the same day they hit theaters, while pretty much every other distributor, including Amazon Prime, gives theaters at least 90 days to screen their movies exclusively before releasing them in other formats—a model Netflix thinks will soon collapse.

But Sarandos doesn’t think streaming will kill cinemas entirely—even if it leaves them for dead.

“If you really believe people would abandon movie theaters if day-and-date releasing was going on, that doesn’t say much for that industry,” Sarandos told The Wrap interview. “I have more faith in them then they do.”