Get Ready for Netflix's First Feature Film

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Netflix’s latest play for legitimacy is coming in the world of cinema, and its first theatrical film Beasts of No Nation looks like a weighty, tense affair. The full trailer, released today, promises grim violence and a compelling, villainous star performance from Idris Elba, who plays the domineering commandant of a band of child mercenaries in an unnamed West African country:

Written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (who made the film Sin Nombre and directed every episode of True Detective’s first season), Beasts of No Nation could mark a sea change for film distribution, or simply a noble experiment. Netflix will release the film in theaters and simultaneously on its streaming site; as a result, most major theater chains are refusing to show it, so its theatrical run will end up being fairly limited.

But if the company’s bet on Fukunaga pays off (and Beasts of No Nation is getting serious buzz on the festival circuit, especially for Elba’s performance), future Netflix films may follow, and theater chains may be powerless to ignore the studio if the audience demand is there. From the looks of it, Beasts of No Nation will be a brutal, grueling viewing experience, but Netflix clearly believes in the property. A few years ago, the idea of a streaming website as a serious TV player was unimaginable, and now Netflix is collecting Emmy trophies for its shows. Could Oscars soon follow?