In the latest installment of streaming services readying their incredibly expensive artillery for the coming war, Apple hopes to own the next Christmas classic with “A Christmas Carol” starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell. Variety reported that Apple won a bidding war against Netflix, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, and others for an unknown price, with sources citing total fees for talent alone at over $60 million.
That would make for a production budget of easily over $100 million. And at those prices, Christmas is for streaming.
Film versions of “A Christmas Carol” has been produced, revived, and rebooted countless times. Charles Dickens published the novella in 1843, and it’s long been in public domain (as is the first adaptation, “Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost,” which was released in 1901). The last time a major studio took on the property was 2009, when Robert Zemeckis made the 3D “A Christmas Carol” for Universal, starring Jim Carrey. That film was a disappointment; it made $325 million worldwide on a $200 million budget.
Since cable became ubiquitous, TV has owned the crowded Christmas movie field. Like kids movies — a genre indisputably owned by Disney — these films are the rare examples of movies people want to watch over and over again, even if it is just once a year.
You can count on NBC to show “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and TNT/TBS to show “A Christmas Story.” Freeform (the former ABC Family) offers its 25 Days of Christmas marathon, in 2017 Hallmark Channel premiered a jaw-dropping 33 original Christmas movies, and IFC celebrated the 30th anniversary of “Die Hard” last year with a daylong marathon of the franchise on Christmas Day.
But in a sea of endless choices, only a select few like “Home Alone” (which Disney+ plans to “reimagine”), “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “The Santa Clause” become required annual viewing. That number also includes “Elf,” which also turned former SNL cast member Ferrell into a genuine movie star in 2003 (and catapulted young director Jon Favreau). It made $220 million worldwide on a $33 million budget; last year, it drew AMC’s biggest audience for 2018 and ranked #29 among best-selling DVDs. It’s also a regular feature on the Christmas carousel on Apple’s iTunes.
But even with Farrell and Reynolds, in 2019 studios would likely start to feel a little less jolly at the prospect of making a Christmas movie that would need to deliver some $400 million worldwide before it saw a profit. For Apple, which is very much willing to spend hundreds of millions to establish its place in the streaming firmament, and potentially create a holiday classic that could retain subscribers for years to come, it looks like a good deal.