Two years ago Amazon crowed loudly about the fact that, unlike its competitor Netflix, it would acquiesce to exhibitor wishes to maintain the 90-day theatrical window and thus release all its original films in cinemas exclusively first before putting them out months later on the service. It was a strategy that initially seemed to work.
After a year of operation, the company’s “Manchester by the Sea” went on to score two Oscar wins and multiple nominations whilst Netflix struggled – only nabbing a nomination for the doco “13th”. Amazon also had an initial strong slate of critical darlings including “Paterson,” “The Handmaiden,” “The Lost City of Z,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “The Salesman,” “The Dressmaker,” “Cafe Society,” “Chi-Raq,” “Love & Friendship” and “The Big Sick” – three of which went on to score nominations the next year.
Then, in late 2017, the tide began to turn. Amazon’s films since then have floundered with numerous titles scoring neither critical love or any real audience, and for every best of year contender like a “You Were Never Really Here” or “Cold War,” there was one of the year’s biggest duds like “Life Itself” or “Gringo” along with underwhelmers like “Wonder Wheel,” “Beautiful Boy” and “Last Flag Flying” – none (bar “Cold War”) getting awards traction beyond the odd one in smaller categories.
Netflix on the other hand has seen the perception of the quality of its films improve, helped by a genuine awards juggernaut with “Roma,” welcome multiple nominations for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” some critical darlings like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and breakthrough (if problematic) hits like “Bird Box”.
With Amazon having seen that strategy working, it comes as little surprise that yesterday Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke revealed at the TCA’s that the streamer will be dipping its toes into direct-to-service releases and plans to make films specifically for its Amazon Prime portal. In addition, they could well follow Netflix’s “Roma” and “Buster Scruggs” model with qualifying theatrical runs followed by streaming releases 1-3 weeks later.
Of those likely skipping out on big theatrical window runs, projects like their eight thematically-linked Blumhouse films and those coming from their production deal with Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films seem the most likely candidates to go direct-to-Prime Video. Salke, however, wants to make it clear Amazon is not abandoning proper-windowed theatrical releases – they are just opening the door to direct-to-service and mixed theatrical/VOD releases.