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Apple Continues to Build Its Prestige Film Slate with New Justin Timberlake Drama ‘Palmer’

Apple hasn't made huge headway in streaming subscriptions yet, but these films could help make it a formidable competitor.

Justin TimberlakeSongwriters Hall of Fame Annual Induction and Awards Gala, Arrivals, Marriott Marquis Hotel, New York, USA - 13 Jun 2019

Justin Timberlake

Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock

Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The Tom Hanks-starrer “Greyhound.” Will Smith vehicle “Emancipation.” And announced Wednesday, “Palmer,” starring Justin Timberlake. As Apple continues to acquire films, the tech giant’s strategy in its first year in Hollywood is growing clearer: It’s betting that big names, big budgets, and prestige films will help keep users satisfied.

The company’s latest acquisition, “Palmer,” is directed by Oscar winner Fisher Stevens (“The Cove”) and is currently in post-production. It stars Timberlake as a former college football phenomenon who, after a stint in prison, returns to his hometown to get his life back on track. He is unexpectedly tasked with looking after a unique boy who has been abandoned by his mother. The screenplay written by Cheryl Guerriero made the 2016 Blacklist.

The cast is rounded out by Juno Temple (“Dirty John”), “Nebraska” Oscar nominee June Squibb, Alisha Wainwright (“Raising Dion”), and Ryder Allen in his feature debut.

The film’s Apple TV+ release date has not been announced.

“Palmer” is the latest example that Apple is doubling down on its prestige-film strategy nine months after it entered into the increasingly crowded streaming space. While it doesn’t have HBO Max’s or Peacock’s libraries of must-watch legacy content, Apple’s deep pockets are allowing it to compete with Netflix in acquiring new titles that fuel conversation and potentially win awards.

As Netflix enjoyed the most Oscar nods of any studio earlier this year, Apple was recovering from the disaster that was “The Banker.” The film, with its inspiring story about overcoming racial inequities and acclaimed performances, had the right ingredients. But its promise was quickly extinguished by sexual misconduct allegations about the son of the man whose story inspired the film that surfaced in November.

Apple quickly got to work. In January, it broke records at Sundance when it teamed up with A24 to acquire the Jury Prize-winning documentary “Boys State” for a reported $12 million. The same month it signed an exclusive deal with Julia Louis-Dreyfus to produce and star in projects, adding another star to a roster of deals that include Alfonso Cuarón, Oprah,  and “The Morning Show” showrunner Kerry Ehrin.

In the spring, Apple beat Netflix at its own game when it stepped in to get Scorsese’s $200-million-plus “Killers of the Flower Moon” made. Paramount, spooked at the rising cost of the film, reportedly told the director to seek other partners — a similar clash that occurred between Scorsese and the studio on “The Irishman.” Netflix ultimately released that film, which contributed to the company’s large number of Oscar nominations this year.

It continued to break records when it acquired “Emancipation” after a bidding war at last month’s Cannes virtual market. The Antoine Fuqua-directed film, sold for $105 million, will star Will Smith as a runaway slave.

Apple’s headline-grabbing activity comes as analysts have raised concerns about the lack of headway it’s made in the streaming space. A recent report from MoffettNathanson found that Apple TV+ has limited appeal for consumers — 29 percent of streaming households have Disney+, launched around the same time, while only 7 percent have Apple TV+. This is something that should “force Apple to reconsider their strategies and options at this point,” reads the report.

While “The Morning Show,” with its huge budget and big stars, may not have been enough to make a splash in the streaming space, as Apple grows its slate with big films and shows, it could be enough to encourage holdouts to subscribe. That will ring especially true if its awards runs prove fruitful.

Regardless, while Netflix needs to sell subscriptions to survive, Apple’s primary business is selling phones and computers — which makes, at this point, its streaming offerings welcome accompaniments to its electronics.

The “Palmer” deal was negotiated on behalf of SK Global by Head of Business and Legal Affairs Brian Kornreich, with Endeavor Content and CAA Media Finance representing the sale. It is produced by Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti, Charlie Corwin, Daniel Nadler, and Charles B. Wessler.

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