Apple’s “Coda” Oscar is a win for the hybrid release model

Actor Daniel Durant in a scene from the Apple film “Coda”
Actor Daniel Durant in a scene from the Apple film “Coda”
Image: Apple
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If consumers ever decide to ditch their iPhones, Apple will do just fine in the movie business. That’s one of the open roads ahead in the wake of the tech giant’s Best Picture Academy Award on Sunday for Coda, the first such trophy for any streaming company. 

And while breaking Oscars ground for streaming companies is a milestone, what’s more notable in the wake of the pandemic is the fact that this is the first hybrid release film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. 

In 2020, as Hollywood’s box office revenue sank in due to covid-19 lockdowns and movie theater closures, Warner Bros. experimented with a simultaneous Christmas Day release of Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and HBO Max simultaneously.

The bold move, which other studios adopted to varying degrees in 2021, was designed to accommodate moviegoers concerned about public spaces during the pandemic, as well as serve as an experiment for the future of film distribution.

Coda was simultaneously released in theaters and on Apple TV+ on Aug. 13, 2021. The film’s theatrical debut was initially limited to around 40 theaters in major markets, with additional theaters added in the following weeks, and another run of free showings in February of 2022.

The strategic wall between movie theaters and streaming is being demolished

Hybrid releases have been a touchy subject for film studios as well as for actors with an equity stake in their films. The practice has raised concerns that being able to stream a film that is also in theaters may negatively impact box office revenue.

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The issue came to a head when Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Sony over the film’s hybrid release. That legal skirmish was ultimately settled, but nevertheless highlighted simmering industry tensions over the practice. 

Whether hybrid releases on average help or hinder a film overall financial performance is still an open question for movie studios. But at least one major film, Dune, managed to pull in $400 million from theaters despite its hybrid release on HBO Max—and its 155-minute running time. 

Apple has aggressively completed deals to land Hollywood’s top talent

For its 2022 production slate, Apple Original Films will debut films starring Will Smith (Emancipation), Ryan Reynolds (Spirited), Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke (Raymond & Ray), and Leonardo DiCaprio directed by Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon), as well as others. 

The company hasn’t announced which films will be distributed as hybrid releases or as initially exclusive to either theaters or streaming. But now that Apple has a new Oscar pedigree, whichever route it decides to take will be welcomed in Hollywood, as will other hybrid releases, even as the memories of the pandemic fade.