The Inverse Interview

Robert Rodriguez isn't worried about the future of movie theaters

“The box office never reflected how much the kids were actually watching the movie.”

robert rodriguez

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Robert Rodriguez has directed some of the seat-filling-est movies in recent memory, from Alita: Battle Angel to Sin City, but for this latest film, he's going straight to streaming.

In the midst of a slugfest between the struggling movie theater industry and powerful streaming services, Rodriguez teamed up with Netflix to make We Can Be Heroes, a colorful kid-friendly superhero flick with loose connections to his underrated 2005 classic The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. The movie's Christmas Day release coincides with another superhero movie, Wonder Woman 1984, the first of many Warner Bros. movies that are going straight to streaming on HBO Max due to the coronavirus pandemic— despite the protests of the movies' directors, stars, and theater owners. (On the same day, Pixar's latest, Soul, is also heading straight to Disney+.)

But Rodriguez tells Inverse that, at least for a movie like We Can Be Heroes, streaming will always be a better option than movie theaters, which never really reflected the success of his early films like Spy Kids anyway.

"Movies like Spy Kids 3D are great on the big screen," he says. "But for these particular movies that kids watch over and over again, they watch them at home. They can't drive themselves to the theater, or they would go every day. The box office never reflected how much the kids were actually watching the movie."

Pedro Pascal stars in We Can Be Heroes.Netflix

Because box office profits are the guiding force in Hollywood, Rodriguez stopped making kids' movies and focused on R-rated action movies that adults would pay to see in theaters. Then, Netflix came calling.

"When Netflix came to me and said, We'd love to get a family film, like the ones you used to make like Spy Kids and Sharkboy, I thought that was just a great idea," Rodriguez says. "I was really interested to not just make it for them, but to find out what the true metrics are on how much kids and families watch these things. So these particular types of films, I would only do for streaming, because it feels like that goes right to the heart of where my audience is."

That said, Rodriguez thinks there's still room for big-budget action movies like Alita that belong on the big screen. And when asked if he thought movie theaters could survive Covid-19, he seems cautiously optimistic:

"It's hard to know, man. Nobody knows anything, right? If this vaccine doesn't work, then we're all in trouble. But hopefully, things could go back to some kind of normalcy where we can go do the things that we miss. I play music on the set, and people were just like, I haven’t heard live music in so long. They long for what they used to be able to do this. I think when it comes back it will come back big."

We Can Be Heroes is streaming now on Netflix.