As expected, Amazon Studios will give Scott Z. Burns’ CIA thriller “The Report,” one of the company’s two seven-figure buys at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a theatrical release this fall, opening September 27. It will open in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., before adding Amazon Prime Video on October 11. At that point, Amazon hopes to release it in a total of 150 total theaters parallel to its home availability.
Unlike rival Netflix, Amazon has has a history of making vital theatrical distribution commitments for films like their other Sundance buy, “Late Night.” Distribution head Bob Berney has made a point of honoring the standard three-month window for theater exclusivity, but this marks a shift under new Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke, who suggested at Sundance that a more flexible approach to releasing Amazon films was in the works.
“The Report,” a political thriller about the struggle inside the CIA over torture methods post-9/11, starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening, and Jon Hamm, provoked a strong reaction at Sundance and a bidding war. Amazon won all global rights for a reported $14 million. It is the directing debut of Burns, a longtime Soderbergh associate whose previous writing credits include “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Contagion,” and “Side Effects,” as well as the upcoming Bond film.
Soderbergh has always led the vanguard of filmmakers embracing the changing world of feature film presentation, from day-and-date “Bubble” to multiple platform play for his films. He was always expected to push Amazon to experiment with an accelerated windows release.
Amazon isn’t necessarily steering from its commitment to the theatrical model. The studio, which went from releasing its films through other companies (including Roadside Attractions for “Manchester by the Sea” and Lionsgate for “The Big Sick”) to setting up an in-house operation, has stood out in contrast to Netflix as a streaming company that favored theatrical traditions. So this variation might seem to be a disruption of that commitment.
Netflix, by contrast, has struggled with how to release a limited number of its offerings, mostly for awards consideration, to theaters. (It’s more than people think: 33 in the past year.) It’s also releasing another dense political drama this year, the Soderbergh-directed “The Laundromat.” Although Netflix has not determined a date, it will be timed for awards.
With questions swirling around how Netflix will handle Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” later this year — discussions with exhibitors continue — Amazon’s strategy for “The Report” suggests that it considers a limited period of exclusivity as a viable path to achieve their goals, which include awards consideration. (“Roma” had three weeks of pre-streaming play last fall and then stayed in theaters parallel to streaming for months.)
After its three-city platform on September 27, “The Report” will add other limited dates the following week, with Prime starting in the third week of its theatrical play. No theaters have been announced.
Will Amazon be able to break into more chains than Netflix, which relied on Landmark and other indie chains? Amazon negotiations might be smoother than those for Netflix; it has the advantage of an ongoing commitment of prioritizing theatrical. Still, particularly with Netflix’s “The Irishman” opening later this year, for the major chains could find it complicated to take different positions for the two companies
Indies like IFC and Magnolia regularly release some titles day and date. Early this decade, Roadside successfully released financial thrillers “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage” with simultaneous VOD availability, including multiple AMC theaters, on a reported four-wall/rental basis similar to Netflix.
An Amazon source said marketing for the film will be aimed at both theatrical and Prime, with the goal based on the filmmakers’ desire to get the film and its story out to as wide an audience as possible. The expectation is that with the wide reach of Prime, that elevated presence could benefit its awards chances.
“The Report” is also expected to play the fall film festival circuit. It will also get some limited international theatrical play, including in the U.K.
Anne Thompson contributed to this report.