Apple TV+ Is Partnering With A24 and Others to Open Movies in Theaters First

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Apple is setting theatrical release dates for its original films, aiming to debut the titles in theaters weeks ahead of making them available to subscribers on its fledgling Apple TV+ streaming service.

Three boutique distribution companies—A24, Bleecker Street, and Greenwich Entertainment—are helping Apple to take out its first slate of original titles, a sure sign that the tech giant is looking to integrate itself within the Hollywood release-date calendar rather than disrupt it (like, say, fellow streamer Netflix).

The news, first reported by Variety, also suggests Apple’s seeking to hit the awards trail right away with its Apple TV+ releases, leaving titles like wildlife documentary The Elephant Queen, Sundance darling Hala, and awards-tipped drama The Banker eligible for Oscars.

The Elephant Queen, which recently premiered in New York, will open in select theaters on Oct. 18 before launching with the Apple TV+ platform on Nov. 1.

Acquired by Apple out of the Toronto International Film Festival last year, the Chiwetel Ejiofor-narrated doc follows a mother elephant seeking to protect her family after they’re forced to leave their watering hole. Husband-wife pair Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble co-directed. Indie tastemakers A24 will reportedly consult on that launch after seeing tremendous success with slow-growing small arthouse titles like The Farewell into word-of-mouth hits. A24’s first documentary effort, Amy Winehouse doc Amy, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2016.

Hala will open in theaters Nov. 22 before coming to Apple TV+ in December. The Minhal Baig-directed drama stars Blockers breakout Geraldine Viswanathan as a Pakistani-American Muslim girl engaging in a tricky balancing act between strict faith, family tradition, and her own burgeoning sexuality. Greenwich Entertainment, a specialty doc distributor, will aid Apple in sending that one into theaters; it’s scaled up since winning the Oscar for rock-climbing doc Free Solo in February, seeing strong returns on a pair of music docs—Echo in the Canyon and Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice—already this year.

The Banker, Apple’s first star vehicle, will open on the very Oscar-friendly date of Dec. 6 before heading to Apple TV+ in the new year. Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson topline as unlikely real-estate moguls in the 1950s who deal with the racial attitudes of the times by recruiting a working-class white man (Nicholas Hoult) to pose as the head of their business. George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) directed.

Bleecker Street is consulting on that release, making it the indie distributor’s main awards candidate this fall. (Ordinary Love, its Liam Neeson-Lesley Manville drama, is not expected to open stateside this year despite a Dec. 6 launch from Focus Features in the U.K.) Partnering with Apple is an unsurprising move for Bleecker Street, which has seen substantial success partnering with streamers Netflix and Amazon Studios to guide award-tipped titles like Beasts of No Nation, The Lost City of Z, and Paterson into theaters.

Even ahead of launching Apple TV+ on Nov. 1, Apple has been teasing an immediate focus on prestige storytelling with its originals. The service’s announced crop of TV series—including The Morning Show, Dickinson, See, Servant, Truth Be Told, and For All Mankind—are linked by their uniformed polished appearance and shared stable of A-list actors. Although Netflix is held up as the competitor against whom all streaming newbies will test their mettle, HBO may be a better comparison point in this case.

That, at least based on initial impressions, would seem to also hold true for Apple’s film efforts. Though talks are in early stages, Apple has been reaching out to NATO—which represents chains like AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas—and working with Greg Foster—formerly IMAX’s head Hollywood emissary—to discuss how the company can stake its claim in the film releasing sphere without ruffling too many feathers.

Netflix notoriously roiled waters in its first years by pushing back against theater owners’ typical practice of requiring a 90-day grace period after opening a film theatrically before making it available elsewhere. Though it’s become formidable since, and found success taking the theatrical route with dramas like Oscar winner Roma, Netflix has still had an acrimonious relationship with Hollywood, especially compared to competitors. Amazon Studios has generally played nice with that 90-day model, though it could be about to plunge into controversy by giving The Report, its Nov. 15 whistleblower drama starring Adam Driver, only a two-week head start in theaters before bringing it to subscribers.

Apple has deep-enough pockets to challenge both of those streamers in all arenas—including with indulgent awards campaigns for The Elephant Queen, The Banker, and Hala, should those titles open to strong reviews. With a Nov. 1 launch, though, this fall is sure to be a throat-clearing season for the streamer, with bigger titles on the way next year.

A24, which has signed a multi-year agreement with Apple, will help to usher in at least one early in 2020: On the Rocks, Sofia Coppola’s dysfunctional family drama. Starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, the film’s been eyed for a Cannes bow before heading to theaters for a lengthy, traditional run.

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