Noted Hollywood director Doug Liman, known for movies such as “Edge of Tomorrow” and “The Bourne Identity,” is still hoping for big screen redemption in an off-screen tiff with Amazon.
The issue was sparked by Amazon-owned MGM Studios’ plan to take his film “Road House” straight to streaming instead of releasing it in theaters, a decision he views as an ominous sign for the future of movies.
“I make Hollywood movies, I believe in happy endings,” Liman told CBS MoneyWatch. “But we’re definitely at that point of the story — the end of the second act — when all hope seems lost for the protagonist.”
Liman signed up to direct a reimagined take on the 1989 Patrick Swayze film of the same name amid Amazon’s $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM, a century-old Hollywood studio. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and UFC star Conor McGregor, the film is now slated to roll out exclusively on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming platform on March 21, bypassing a theatrical motion picture release, much to Liman’s dismay.
“This is a movie that audiences will want to see on a big screen,” said Liman, noting that he’s not opposed to making streaming movies, as he’s done in the past and continues to do.
But beyond depriving movie buffs of seeing “Road House” on the silver screen, Amazon’s decision also means the film and its stars will miss out on the chance to be recognized come award season, while they will lose out on compensation tied to box-office performance.
Filmmakers and stars “don’t share in the upside of a hit movie on a streaming platform,” Liman wrote earlier in the week in an op-ed in Deadline. “But the impact goes far beyond this one movie. This could be industry shaping for decades to come,” added the director, who plans to boycott the film’s premier at the SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas, in March.
Movie theaters will not continue to exist “if we don’t give them big commercial movies that audiences want and like to see,” said Liman, whose films also include “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “American Made” and “Swingers.”
“By whatever metric you use to gauge Road House, it has the elements to be a big commercial hit,” he said.
“Release in theaters!”
Actress and comedian Amy Schumer wrote about her wish to see “Road House” in the theater. “Seeing this movie in the big screen with a group of girlfriends is the way to go,” Schumer posted on social media. “Release in theaters!”
A theatrical release requires more marketing, but it’s usually worth the extra expense, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Alicia Reese. “It’s a calculus that all studios have to go through, more so for the streaming platforms that have a decent subscriber base,” Reese said.
“In order to be profitable, most movies require an exclusive theatrical release window followed by a strong streaming platform release,” said Reese, who notes that releasing a movie in theaters first “doesn’t cannibalize the streaming release, in fact it does the opposite.”
As for Road House and Amazon’s decision to skip a theatrical release, Reese said “it sounds like a one-off to me.”
Amazon is looking for big-bang content while waiting for the, added David Offenberg, associate professor of entertainment finance at Loyola Marymount University.
“For Prime, putting Road House on the streaming service is a way to replace the NFL,” he said. “Putting on a big movie like this is a way for Amazon to attract viewers and make them more comfortable that they have to view a bunch of ads.”
“To give great filmmakers like Doug Liman all their due in attempting to advocate for the theatrical release of films with major potential — as a cinema lover, it beats out that experience on my couch every time — but from a business perspective, Doug’s point and commentary are very myopic,” said J. Christopher Hamilton III, an assistant professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.
A movie studio like Disney, for instance, would likely make a different decision, but in Amazon’s case there’s another business model, said Hamilton, also a practicing entertainment attorney. “What they really care about is selling toilet paper and toothbrushes,” he said.
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.