Traditional Hollywood movie studios are sitting on a cornucopia of finished films they can’t put in theaters right now. So they’re letting streaming services take some off their plates.
Netflix is finalizing a deal to purchase the rights to The Woman in the Window from Disney, Deadline reported yesterday. The film, which stars Amy Adams and is based on the best-selling novel of the same name, was supposed to come out in May under Disney’s Fox film brand. But the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the release of every would-be summer 2020 blockbuster, forcing Disney to offload the film onto a service that has the means to show it to audiences when theaters are shuttered—even when that service is a competitor.
Details of the sale have not been disclosed. But whatever Netflix offered in exchange for the movie, it must have been enticing enough to keep Disney from putting it on one of its own streaming platforms. While the R-rated thriller would not have been a good fit on the more family-friendly Disney+ service, it would have made sense for Hulu, which Disney is positioning as its general entertainment streaming option. As Hulu is only available in the US, Disney still would have had to find another suitor to stream the film internationally.
Part of the reason Disney may have been comfortable dumping The Woman in the Window on a rival streaming service is because it has little confidence in the film: It underwent reshoots after test screenings reportedly confused audiences and was subsequently delayed six months. But the other reason is that Disney—and every other major Hollywood studio—will have a backlog of films to release in theaters next year, due to all the pandemic-related postponements. While the cash made from pawning off some of those movies to streaming services probably isn’t as much as the studios would make with theatrical releases, it’s still better than letting them collect dust.
Sony Pictures made a similar calculation when it sold the Tom Hanks World War II movie, Greyhound, to Apple in May for $70 million. “We are completely dedicated to the theatrical world, but this is an opportunity that arose and we took it,” Sony Pictures CEO Tony Vinciquerra told CNBC. The film wound up breaking viewership records for Apple’s nascent streaming service, Apple TV+, that were “commensurate with a summer theatrical box office big hit,” according to Deadline.
Netflix has purchased several finished films from Paramount Pictures, including The Trial of the Chicago 7, a legal drama directed by Aaron Sorkin expected to be an Oscar contender. WarnerMedia’s streaming service, HBO Max, bought two movies from Sony. Amazon took on films from Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment.
The unloading of major studio films onto streaming is just another way the pandemic has upended how Hollywood does business. Already, studios are conceding they may have to start releasing films in theaters outside the US first because they can’t afford to keep waiting on the country to get the virus under control. Meanwhile, Universal and theater chain AMC reached a historic pact to shorten the amount of a time a film plays exclusively in theaters before it’s allowed to be rented at home.