Originally slated to hit theaters during the prime Christmas movie season, Warner Bros.’ Melissa McCarthy vehicle “Superintelligence” will instead head straight to HBO Max when the streaming service launches this spring as part of an enticing slate of offerings meant to drive subscriptions. It’s the latest signal that both studios and talent are realizing the value of nixing the uncertainty of a theatrical release in favor of an admittedly less glamorous exhibition, but one that comes with a guaranteed payday and better chance for a mid-budget movie to get in front of an audience.
Directed by Ben Falcone, “Superintelligence” stars McCarthy as an ordinary woman whose TV, phone, and microwave start giving her snarky backtalk. She’s not losing her mind, rather she’s been wrapped up in the titular superintelligence’s plan to take over everything, making McCarthy humanity’s last hope.
It’s the kind of comedy McCarthy and her director husband have been making together since 2014’s “Tammy.” A look at their movies’ box-office track record reveals the simplest explanation as to why the move to streaming is a wise one.
“Tammy” likely turned a small profit, grossing $100.53 million worldwide on a $20 million budget for Warner Bros. “The Boss” brought in $78.8 million on a $29 million budget in 2016, a likely loss for distributor Universal. They were back to Warners last year for their poorest-performing collaboration to date, “Life of the Party,” which grossed $65.85 million on an estimated $30 million budget.
The pair make exactly the kind of mid-budget, star-driven comedies that just don’t make money anymore. It’s why Adam Sandler, who made his name churning out once-successful movies for Sony until audiences’ theatrical tastes changed, became one of the first stars to sign a deal at Netflix, where he makes and stars in comedies like “Murder Mystery.”
After that film dropped on the streaming platform earlier this year, Netflix said 13.3 million accounts streamed the Kyle Newacheck-helmed movie in the first three days it was available. The figure prompted Fortune to publish a story with the headline “Netflix’s ‘Murder Mystery’ Would’ve Killed With a $120 Million Opening Weekend — If the Adam Sandler Comedy Ran in Theaters.”
While the article eventually points out that there’s no way to tell how many people actually would have left their homes to watch Sandler and Jennifer Aniston’s hijinks, the premise alone overlooks the long-understood fact about these movies — more often than not, people don’t leave their homes for them.
McCarthy recognized this in an interview with Deadline about the move for “Superintelligence” to streaming.
“And we thought, is this better? Different doesn’t mean worse, and how are we watching films ourselves?” she said. “To us, each movie is near and dear to our hearts. You just want people to see it and love it and you want them to feel good. Superintelligence at its core is, love wins, and people matter. I want that to get to as many people as it can. We need that today, and this seemed like the best way to do it.”
Falcone, who said it was his own idea to pull the movie from the theatrical calendar, joked that he makes “fear-based” decisions.
“Honestly, you can release a mid-budget movie, and if we’d stayed in the theaters, we could have done incredibly well,” he said. “There still are those examples of movies like this one that do. But for this movie, at this time, we felt like it was the best way to go.”
They’re in good company. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, once synonymous with studio tentpoles, told an audience at the Toronto International Film Festival that they appreciated Netflix’s model of giving awards movies a very limited theatrical run before they hit the streaming platform, the way their 2020 movie “Hillbilly Elegy” will be released.
Meantime, Disney declared the new Hollywood playbook with its Disney+ streaming slate. Once-lucrative big-screen franchises headed for the upcoming streaming platform include “Home Alone,” “Night at the Museum,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” as franchises — a segment of the market Disney has cornered — are pretty much the only safe bet for a theatrical release.
When “Avengers: Endgame” grosses $2.8 billion globally, the huge gamble of releasing a mid-budget comedy that, at best, will only return a modest profit just isn’t appealing to bottom-live driven studios. That may have been a hard reality to swallow in recent years, but as WarnerMedia, Disney, Apple, and NBCUniversal are all prepping to launch what they hope are Netflix killers, they plan to do it by attempting to beat the streamer-king at its own game.
In addition to “Superintelligence,” HBO Max has “Friends” and “Bad Education,” bought at the Toronto for nearly $20 million in what was likely the priciest festival-buy ever. Disney has it’s enormous library and the associated IP to exploit, which it plans to do with streaming-only Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” alongside exclusive movies the Anna Kendrick Christmas flick “Noelle.”
Meantime, studios with none or less robust streaming services are moving in the same direction. Paramount has a deal with Netflix to produce films for the service like it did with “The Cloverfield Paradox” in 2018. And Sony is reportedly considering a deal with the streamer too.