Apple’s Feature Films Will Come to the Big Screen

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Big-name movies produced by Apple may be coming soon to a theatre near you, as new reports reveal that Apple will be offering major theatrical releases for the movies that it’s producing for Apple TV+.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple has already been reaching out to cinema chains and working with entertainment executives to set up a traditional theatrical-release plan that would not only see its movies come to the big screen, but remain in theatres for several weeks before becoming available on Apple TV+.

Apple wouldn’t be the first streaming company to do this, however — both Netflix and Amazon Prime have released movies into theatres previously, but that’s mostly been as a token gesture to be eligible for the Academy Awards, where the rules say that movies must be publicly shown at at a commercial theatre in Los Angeles for at least seven consecutive days, with three screenings available per day in “a manner normal and customary to theatrical feature distribution practices.”

It was this move that allowed Netflix’s Roma to controversially earn a best-picture nomination at least year’s Academy Awards, something that didn’t sit right with Hollywood power brokers like Steven Spielberg.

The rules for winning an Oscar, however, don’t say that a movie has to debut exclusively in a theatre, merely that it cannot be released anywhere else prior to its theatrical release, and in the case of Roma, Netflix made it available to its subscribers on the same day it appeared in theatres, in a move that was clearly intended just to meet the Academy’s bare minimum requirements for eligibility.

This is not what Apple is doing.

Going for the Red Carpet

Although it’s pretty clear that Apple really does want to win Oscars for its content, it also wants to make sure that it’s taken seriously as a major player rather than being seen merely as some upstart little streaming company.

As a result, Apple is getting serious about putting its feature films forward with the same level of status and exposure as any other Hollywood studio would. According to the Journal, Apple’s conversations with theatre owners have made it clear that it’s willing to play by their rules and give them exclusive runs in exchange for widespread theatrical releases and the prestige that goes with it.

As part of this strategy, Apple hopes to not only be taken more seriously as a contender for the Oscars, but to also attract more big-name directors and producers to join its ranks, while also avoiding being painted with the same brush as Netflix.

“On the Rocks”

According to sources familiar with Apple’s plans, the company is already preparing for its first major theatrical release, which will be Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray and telling the story of a young woman who wants to reconnect with her eccentric father.

Apple is not only planning for a mid-2020 theatrical release for On the Rocks, but also hopes to premiere the film at a high-profile event such as the Cannes Film Festival.

We first heard about the film from Sofia Coppola, daughter of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, earlier this year as part of Apple’s deal with the award-winning indie studio A24, which produced the 2017 Oscar-winner Moonlight, along with Room, The Witch, and Ex Machina. Although the deal between Apple and A24 isn’t exclusive, it does seem that it will be key to helping it produce the kind of feature films that Apple hopes will win Oscars.

That said, as the Journal notes, A24 isn’t particularly known for setting box-office records, since its films tend to be more boutique film festival style fare, but the studio is well-regarded in Hollywood and among critics, and it doesn’t seem likely that Apple’s main priority here is to make a big splash at the box office so much as it is to make an impression on the movers and shakers in the film industry.

Sources also note that Apple’s The Elephant Queen, a documentary that’s already slated to arrive when Apple TV+ debuts on November 1, is also being released in theatres on the same day to ensure that it’s eligible for awards consideration. Although it seems more likely that this one will be a token release for that purpose, it’s likely to be far less controversial for a documentary film.

The Big Screen Still Matters

Theatrical releases are still important for many content creators, who still want to see their work appear on the big screen, especially at a time when Hollywood still sees films on streaming services as equivalent to “made for TV” movies.

In fact, despite being offered a better financial deal by Apple, J.J. Abrams recently chose to partner with WarnerMedia for less money, largely because he was afraid of being limited to the small screen due to Apple’s lack of a movie distribution model. Abrams is working with Apple on at least one original content project, but it looks like that will be a one-off for now.

So with Apple’s betting its entire streaming service on producing extremely compelling content, it’s easy to see how it’s going to need to start playing by Hollywood’s rules if it wants to be taken seriously by the actors, directors, writers, and producers that it will need to attract in order to make Apple TV+ a success.

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