Apple Aims for Traditional Theatrical Exhibition of Its Movies

According to sources, Apple is in talks with cinema chains to open its feature-length films in a traditional theatrical release, with an exclusive stay in theaters before becoming available on Apple TV+. Apple might choose, however, to first debut its films in art house cinemas in New York and Los Angeles. The company reportedly is pursuing this strategy to draw in major directors and producers, as well as avoid the tension Netflix created when it released its movies without an exclusivity window.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Netflix’s approach “limits the company’s ability to play its movies in major cinemas, which generally insist that films don’t appear online for about three months after their theatrical debuts.”

Apple has chosen a strategy more similar to that of Amazon, which gave “Manchester by the Sea” a three-month theatrical window “while others get a two-week run.”

One of Apple’s first theatrical releases is “On the Rocks,” directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray. Produced with art-house company A24, with which Apple signed a multiyear partnership, “On the Rocks” may premiere at a “high-profile event such as the Cannes Film Festival” before a mid-2020 release.

Apple is also shopping “The Elephant Queen,” a documentary set to debut on November 1 on Apple TV+ and also run in theaters to make it eligible for awards. Sources added, “Apple is more interested in the prestige and brand-building that can come with a glitzy theatrical release.”

Also similar to Amazon, Apple has positioned itself “as a place where artists can share their stories with the world, putting pressure on it to define a theatrical-release plan for producers and directors.” Director J.J. Abrams recently turned down Apple’s interest in his projects, signing instead with WarnerMedia, “partly because Apple didn’t have a movie distribution model.”

WSJ notes that Apple TV+ “will initially offer just a handful of original shows, making it a tough sell against the deeper programming libraries of such streaming rivals as Netflix, Amazon and Walt Disney.” Apple TV+, overseen by services chief Eddy Cue, is led by co-heads of video programming Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht. Former IMAX head of entertainment Greg Foster was tapped as a consultant.