CinemaCon Head-Scratcher: What Is Amazon Doing at a Movie Theater Event?

Cafe Society Still - H 2016
Sabrina Lantos/Amazon Studios

Cafe Society Still - H 2016

The streaming video giant will wave a friendly flag at CinemaCon even as the battle rages over day-and-date releases.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Sean Parker's proposed $50 in-home movie service has many up in arms, and Netflix remains persona non grata, but one unlikely new player is being embraced by cinema operators: Amazon Studios. On April 14, Roy Price and his team at Amazon, including indie film veteran Ted Hope, marketing exec Bob Berney and Jason Ropell, will present an ambitious slate of original movies at CinemaCon, the annual gathering of exhibitors in Las Vegas. Being part of the official program — one that includes the major studios and is hosted by the National Association of Theatre Owners — confirms that Amazon, unlike rival Netflix, has decided to abide by a traditional 90-day theatrical window in cases where it decides to give a film a full run on the big screen before making it available to its Prime customers.

"Amazon Prime members love discovering great films in the theater and online,” says Berney. "We are developing an extensive slate to deliver quality films and become an important supplier and real partner to exhibitors." NATO doesn't invite just anybody to its annual party. "We welcome all distributors who take theatrical releases seriously," NATO vp Patrick Corcoran tells THR. "Amazon has demonstrated its commitment to exclusive theatrical content." Without a pledge to preserve the sacred theatrical window, most chains will refuse to play a movie. Last fall, Amazon and partner Roadside Attractions failed to book more than 300 locations for Spike Lee's Chi-Raq since the movie was made available in short order on Prime. Chi-Raq topped out at $2.7 million; worse, it was shut out of the Oscar race, as was Netflix's Beasts of No Nation, which got an even smaller theatrical run. (Price is keen to achieve the same awards glory with film that he has had in TV with Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle.)

So Amazon has decided to compromise on several titles. "A full-bodied theatrical release is what gives a movie its identity, so that when it goes to Prime, it's a lot more valuable," says one insider. Upcoming films that will get a proper theatrical run include Woody Allen's Cannes opener Cafe Society, Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship (May 13) and Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea (Nov. 18). Says Roadside's Howard Cohen, who will release Friendship and Manchester, "Amazon and theater owners know they are going to be playing ball together."

Manchester by the Sea