Netflix has been making massive inroads into the original movie business over the last few years, pumping out big-budget feature films that rival Hollywood’s traditional output and which would have been thought impossible for a streaming platform in the past. And quite a few people in Hollywood don’t like it. We’ve heard in recent times how the Tinsel Town old guard – who still only view cinema releases as the proper way to watch movies – turn their noses up at the streaming giant’s films. These snooty folks just have to get with the times though, and the times they are a-changing. Case in point: Filmmaker Alex Garland’s hotly anticipated sci-fi adaptation Annihilation will be hitting Netflix a mere 17 days after its 23 February 2018 release date.
This may just seem like Hollywood bending to pressure from a public who are enjoying their movie entertainment at home more and more, but there’s actually a totally unexpected story behind this move. As THR reports, back in 2014 after writer-turned-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd 3D) blew everybody away with his incredible directing debut Ex Machina, Paramount rapidly snapped him up to adapt Jeff VanderMeer’s critically acclaimed sci-fi novel Annihilation. The novel is a grim post-apocalyptic tale about a psychologist who leads an expedition of three other unnamed women scientists (an anthropologist, a biologist, and a surveyor) into the mysterious Area X – which is filled with strange contaminates and deadly new flora and fauna. The sombre tale tackles some heavy psychological issues and complex science-fiction storytelling which made it look like a perfect fit for Garland after Ex Machina and a wise move by then Paramount execs Brad Grey and Rob Moore.
However, things didn’t look quite so wise after the first test screening. At least not from the perspective of David Ellison, the billionaire head of Skydance Productions, who was co-financing Annihilation as well as a large portion of Paramount’s further slate of films. When test screening results came back that some audiences found the film “too intellectual” and “too complicated”, Ellison started to panic. Skydance had recently lost a lot of money on box office bombs like Geostorm and Terminator Genisys, and concerned that this might happen again Ellison demanded that the movie – which had already finished production back in July – be tweaked to be more general audience friendly, with the lead scientist role played by Natalie Portman made to be more sympathetic.
The problem was that standing across from Ellison was producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, Lady Bird), who has been known to stand behind the artistic visions of his directors, just as he was doing now by not acquiescing to Ellison’s demands. Rudin, who has final cut on the film, stuck by Garland – much to my appreciation as we need more challenging sci-fi films – leading to a testy atmosphere with Ellison. Caught in the middle was Paramount, whose new management wasn’t even around when these deals were initially made.
Trying to find a middle-ground solution that would keep everybody happy, Paramount reached out to Netflix with a new deal which would see the streaming platform foot a large portion of the film’s $55 million budget in exchange for the incredibly early release window on the streaming service. Paramount would still distribute in US, Canada and China, but Netflix would handle the release in all other international markets. This severely limits the financial risks of both Paramount and Skydance and already guarantees a huge a chunk of revenue up front that Netflix will hand over.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because this game-changing tactic actually first happened earlier in the year when New Line struck a deal with Netflix for their upcoming reboot of Shaft starring Jessie T. Usher and Samuel L. Jackson. Just as with Annihilation, Netflix would be picking up more than half the tab here as well, in exchange for allowing them to distribute the film internationally just two weeks after its US theatrical debut. If this distribution model proves successful for both films, I can definitely see other studios attempt the same co-releasing deal for other slightly more risky, mid-budget films that aren’t guaranteed the big figure returns of major blockbusters. And that’s a win for us if you ask me.
Last Updated: December 8, 2017