“The Aeronauts,” an adventure full length film was built for the big screen. In May, Amazon Studios said the movie would play exclusively on IMAX screens for a one-week engagement before “a full theatrical run.”
“We look forward to giving our customers an unforgettable theatrical experience high above the clouds,” Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement at the time.
Fast forward two months and Amazon has scrapped the entire plan. Along with Ted Hope, Matt Newman and Julie Rapaport — Ms. Salke called the makers of “The Aeronauts” and told them that, instead of the exclusive IMAX engagement and extensive theatrical release in the United States, the film would open Dec. 6 at a limited number of theaters and start streaming Dec. 20. (Entertainment One, known as eOne, will distribute the film in Britain for a full theatrical run, including IMAX theaters.)
What caused the new direction? Does it mean that Amazon is not gong to continue to be a friend to old Hollywood?
“It’s not how it’s intended to be seen,” director, Tom Harper, told the New York Times. He was very surprised by the new plan partly because last month “The Aeronauts” received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. “But it’s a changing world, and I want people to see the movie. If it were up to me, I’d tell them to see it in the theaters.” In the past films from Amazon spent months in theaters, these titles include the two-time Oscar winner “Manchester by the Sea,” and the acclaimed 2017 comedy “The Big Sick” and this summer’s “Late Night.”
The Amazon Studios television arm has distinguished itself with two Emmy-winning series, “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
“On the film side, I still think they are figuring out what they want to be,” said Richard Greenfield, a co-founder of the LightShed Partners research firm.
Its all very interesting considering Amazon has recently shelled out $14 million for “Brittany Runs a Marathon,”; another $14 million for “The Report,”starring Annette Bening and Adam Driver; and $13 million for the domestic rights to “Late Night,” a comedy written by Mindy Kaling and starring Ms. Kaling.
With “Late Night,” Amazon hoped to repeat its success with “The Big Sick,” a Sundance pickup that grossed more than $56 million at the box office. At the height of its run, “Late Night” played on 2,200 screens across the country this summer. “Late Night” generated $15.4 million in domestic box office. The trade press pounced. IndieWire called the release “a disaster.” Variety said Amazon had been “thrown off-balance.”
Ms. Salke called the coverage “frustrating.” She also defended the “Late Night” acquisition, saying it has been streamed on Amazon Prime Video more than any other Amazon original film since it appeared on the service Sept. 6. She would not reveal specific figures.
When “Late Night” was still in theaters, Amazon parted ways with the company’s head of film marketing and distribution, Bob Berney, a Hollywood veteran whose four-year contract had expired. At roughly the same time, Amazon also changed course on “The Aeronauts,” a film with a budget of roughly $40 million that it had developed in house.
“With the accessibility of a movie like ‘The Aeronauts,’ we think we can make a bigger event out of it on Prime,” Ms. Salke said.
“Given the state of the business, nobody is relishing the idea of having a movie out in theaters that, no matter what, the industry wants to talk about the underperformance of those movies,” Ms. Salke said.
But Amazon decided on the cinematic route for “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” which opened in five theaters in August and has played on more than 1,000 screens. So far, it has generated a modest $6.6 million, according to the website Box Office Mojo. Amazon has decided on a similar strategy for “Honey Boy,” which stars Shia LaBeouf and has received strong early reviews, with a plan to open it in a few theaters Nov. 8 before rolling it out across the country.