Beyond Bond, Amazon-MGM Doesn’t Bring Good News for Theaters

James Bond remains in theaters, as will other titles on the 2021 UA release calendar. Beyond that, expect Prime to take precedence.
Chris Pratt in "The Tomorrow War"
"The Tomorrow War"
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The same morning that Amazon announced its proposed merger with MGM, it dropped another press release: “Amazon Studios will exclusively release THE TOMORROW WAR globally on Prime Video July 2nd, 2021.” Assume the timing was coincidental, but it reinforces the deal’s key message: Theaters are of secondary concern.

There are exceptions: Eon Prods., which shares ownership of the James Bond franchise and has contractual say on key elements including distribution, quickly reasserted that “No Time to Die,” opening worldwide between September 30 and October 8 this fall, will see its planned theatrical release (through United Artists domestically and Universal elsewhere).

Beyond that, MGM is expected to be an Amazon label, much as its acquisitions of Twitch and Audible. It’s unclear just how much theatrical exhibition we can expect — or if there would be need to maintain both the Amazon Studios and MGM staffs to do it.

Over the last year, Amazon acquired significant studio titles slated to play theaters including “Coming to America II,” “Without Remorse,” and “My Spy.” All became Amazon Prime premieres. Of course, those titles had to deal with a pandemic. On May 27, the day after the MGM announcement, Amazon announced the acquisition of an A24 production, the Val Kilmer documentary “Val.” Rumored to be slated for Cannes, Amazon doesn’t specify its distribution platform(s).

Paramount acquisition “The Tomorrow War” — the live-action directorial debut from “The Lego Batman Movie” director Chris McKay, starring genuine movie star Chris Pratt — will be a Prime exclusive in a time when most theaters will be open. A man-versus-aliens sci-fi action film, its producers include Skydance Media (“Top Gun: Maverick” and the “Mission: Impossible” franchise). It’s now an “Amazon Original Movie.”

As Amazon and MGM work to complete their deal, a United Artist source confirms that the 2021 titles all are proceeding with theatrical releases as planned. United Artists is a partnership with Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Releasing, led by veteran distributor Erik Lomis.

The company recently released “Wrath of Man” with Jason Statham, which grossed $8.3 million in theaters, and after three weeks became available on Premium VOD. In addition to Bond, upcoming UA titles include Sundance 2021 comedy “How It Ends” starring and co-directed by Zoe Lister-Jones (July 20), the long-anticipated Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” starring Jennifer Hudson (August 13), animated sequel “The Addams Family II” (October 1), Ridley Scott’s fashion epic “Gucci” (November 24), the untitled Paul Thomas Anderson starring Bradley Cooper (November 26 limited, December 24 wide), and Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” (December 24 limited) starring Peter Dinklage.


Other upcoming titles include “Dog” with Channing Tatum for February 18, 2022, Billy Porter’s “What If,” Ron Howard’s “13 Lives,” and George Miller’s “The Three Thousand Years of Longing.”

For now, Amazon has two films scheduled for theatrical release this year with Leos Carax’s Cannes opener “Annette,” a musical with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, and “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Amazon set up an theatrical distribution arm in 2017 that, at the time, distinguished it from Netflix by elevating theatrical play. Previously, films like “Manchester by the Sea” and “The Big Sick” were handled by other distributors. However, in house theatrical has had more modest results with “Late Night,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” “Suspiria,” and “Seberg.” Their Releases in 2020 were more limited, of course; they included a pre-Prime release of “One Night of Miami,” with no grosses reported. The more broadly appealing “Borat” sequel was Prime only.

Both entities have capable staffs, but that is secondary to the bigger question: Whoever is in charge will execute Amazon’s overarching strategy. Figure it will be what most benefits the Amazon Prime brand.

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