Days after Searchlight added black-and-white theatrical dates for Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” (along with some holdover color ones), his remake of the 1947 film noir classic debuted Tuesday on both Disney-owned Hulu and Warner Bros.’ HBO Max in the U.S.
Both streamers carry only the color version, perhaps because the monochrome cut just arrived in theaters. As for why Disney would make the counterintuitive move to share the film with a rival, that’s the fallout from the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox (which includes Searchlight). Studios usually contract with premium cable channels on theatrical releases; pre-Covid, these deals usually kicked in eight to nine months after they opened in theaters.
Fox, including Searchlight, had such an agreement with HBO. (Warner Bros. has a premium cable channel; Fox did not.) That deal extends through this year and includes a number of key titles produced by Fox. As a result, they were obliged to provide movies like “Free Guy,” “The French Dispatch,” “West Side Story,” “The Last Duel,” and “The King’s Men” to cable HBO before streaming anywhere.
In November, the two companies announced that for the remainder of the contract they would collaborate on a streaming strategy. Warner Bros. had its rights free and clear, but Disney likely lured the studio to shared custody with the opportunity to play on HBO Max — often just weeks after theatrical release.
This is the second time the streamers have shared a film. “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” produced by Fox Animation and released in October, went to both services in December. However, the shared release strategy on the Disney titles gives a sense of the different options in play.
The agreement (lacking specifics about titles beyond the first one) was announced in late November. But the release of initial films has given some sense of different options.
It was released almost six months ago, but “Free Guy” delayed any streaming until February 23; that’s when it will debut on both Disney+ and HBO Max. That comes after several months of consistently strong Premium VOD, then standard-price VOD, with Disney the sole studio earning revenue. “The French Dispatch” and “The Last Duel” both went to HBO Max only — not Hulu — after PVOD and VOD play.
Still to be determined is “West Side Story.” Although the film has been a box-office disappointment ($36 million so far), it’s got plenty of streamer appeal: It can attract older audiences reluctant to patronize theaters, and it will likely garner multiple Oscar nominations next week. It’s possible Disney will opt to continue as a theater exclusive after the nominations, or add PVOD play, before any streaming starts.
Of note with “Nightmare Alley:” It skipped the PVOD phase. The film was not a theatrical success (it just passed $10 million), but has been widely discussed and has the kind of cast (Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara included) that draws at-home paying customers. Without PVOD, it could potentially draw new Hulu subscribers… or, new HBO Max subscribers.
The Disney-HBO may also explain why Disney didn’t go straight to Hulu for “Death on the Nile.” Kenneth Branagh’s film, made before “Belfast,” has been delayed for reasons including concerns about marketing a title that stars the scandalized Armie Hammer. Based on existing contracts, it would appear the studio didn’t have a straight-to-Hulu option.
At some point, one imagines the black-and-white version of “Nightmare Alley” will appear on streaming; more likely, on Hulu. In the meantime, the 1947 version can be rented via Amazon Prime, Roku, and other sites.
Those who prefer recent titles on PVOD rather than on a subscription channel have a major new option this week. “House of Gucci” (United Artists), after an unusually long 10-week theater-exclusive run, is now out on PVOD for $19.99.