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Apple sets theatrical runs for three movies, ahead of their streaming debuts

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, shown in March.
(Paul Sakuma)

Apple has promised to put three of its original films in movie theaters ahead of their streaming debuts, as the company attempts to make inroads in Hollywood.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant on Friday said it would make the upcoming releases “The Banker,” “The Elephant Queen” and “Hala” in cinemas weeks before they debut on Apple TV+.

However, the company’s promised theatrical windows are considerably shorter than the typical exclusivity period given to major studio movies, which could raise hackles among major exhibitors. The average studio movie runs in theaters for about 90 days before becoming available for home viewing.

Wildlife documentary “The Elephant Queen” will open in select cities Oct. 18 before it debuts Nov. 1 on Apple TV+, the company said. Coming-of-age story “Hala” arrives in limited release Nov. 22 before premiering on streaming in December, while Samuel L. Jackson’s “The Banker” hits cinemas Dec. 6 before launching on Apple TV+ in January.

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Apple was said to be making overtures to exhibitors for its release strategy, but it’s still unclear how the major cinema chains will respond to Apple’s plans. The company did not announce any deals with cinema operators, nor did it say how many theaters would run the movies.

Rival Netflix has repeatedly irked theater chains with its film strategy. Until recently, Netflix put its movies on its service simultaneously with theaters. But major chains refused to play ball with the Los Gatos, Calif.-based streamer, choosing not to carry pictures such as “Mudbound.”

In an apparent shift to appease filmmakers, Netflix last year released the acclaimed Alfonso Cuaron film “Roma” and other movies in theaters for several weeks before their streaming debuts. The company is planning to release Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” in theaters on Nov. 1, before it becomes available online Nov. 27.

But that was not enough of a concession for major theater chains such as AMC and Regal, who say their business model depends on a robust exclusive window.

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Amazon, in contrast, won over cinema chains early on by offering exclusive windows at theaters for movies that are later featured on its service, such as drama “Manchester By the Sea.” Amazon views the films it releases as a way to bringing prestige and awards recognition, which will help increase Prime memberships.

The iPhone maker is betting that theatrical releases will generate more interest from potential subscribers and increase the prestige of its motion pictures.

Another major factor in its thinking may also be that big-name directors still like their films to be seen on the big screen by as many people as possible, and Apple needs to win over talent if it’s going to have a chance of succeeding in the coming battle for streaming viewers.

Apple will launch its service, Apple TV+, in November with nine original programs. Its high-profile announcements have so far emphasized TV shows, rather than movies. Its programming includes the Jason Momoa sci-fi epic “See,” a drama about poet Emily Dickinson, and Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s “The Morning Show.”


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