The big studio films that have been sold to streaming services

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Paramount sells The Lovebirds to Netflix in the light of the Coronavirus spread, and it’s one of many big films from studios that have been sold to streamers.

Given the risks involved in launching a non-franchise movie into cinemas – even before the Coronavirus spread – a growing number of big studio films have been bypassing the big screen, with the companies behind them instead opting to cut their losses and take a cheque from the likes of Netflix instead. This trend, if anything, is growing, with the likes of Masters Of The Universe and Beverly Hills Cop 4 on the way too. and here’s the current collection of projects that have been affected.

The Cloverfield Paradox

The highest profile early project that went from studio to streamer was the third film in the loose Cloverfield franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox. Paramount had been adopting its usual low-key approach to promoting the film, with the first two movies sprung to a degree as surprises. As such, whilst there had been rumours of a third Cloverfield movie, there had been no promotion or official confirmation from the studio.

Which, in turn, gave Paramount some wiggle room. Struggling with the numbers, it thus struck a deal worth in the region of $50m for Netflix to acquire the film. Netflix in turn expertly marketed it, revealing during its 2018 Superbowl commercials the existence and title of the film. But it also revealed that it’d be available immediately after the game. And it was.

The Julius Onah-directed movie, which wasn’t ultimately reviewed well, became a quick phenomenon. Netflix had a hit, Paramount made a small profit. It paved the way for further deals, and it’s clear that other studios took swift notice.


Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel was always going to be quite a tricky sell. Notwithstanding the fact that Natalie Portman was in the lead role, the $40m film was going into a marketplace that was hardly gobbling up adult-targeting sci-fi movies. The story goes that after a troubling test screening, producer and financier David Ellison was concerned that the film was “too intellectual” and “too complicated” to be a major release. He asked for changes to make it broader in appeal, including a new ending. Producer Scott Rudin stood side by side with director Garland. The film stayed as it was.

Paramount thus went back to Netflix, and split things up. It retained the US distribution rights for the movie, and duly released it in cinemas there. It also had distribution rights in China and Canada. Elsewhere though, in a high profile deal, the film was sold to Netflix to distribute. Thus, three weeks after the film made its cinema bow – earning $43m in the three territories in which it got a theatrical release – the film was on Netflix elsewhere in the world.

Hand on heart, I think it’s an astoundingly good film, and the rights were such that a disc release finally followed in the UK last year too. This is, more than any of the list so far, the film that it’s a crying shame more didn’t even get the chance to watch on the big screen.

The Lovebirds

Before the Coronavirus pandemic led to the shutting of cinemas in the UK and US in particular, Paramount Pictures had scheduled The Lovebirds for an April 2020 release in cinemas. When it became clear that it would have to sit on the film until cinemas reopened, the studio opted instead to call in Netflix, and the streamer duly purchased the movie.

Issa Rae and Kumali Nanjiani star in this one, about a couple on the verge of splitting up who suddenly find themselves in the midst of a murder mystery. Michael Showalter has directed the film, and Netflix debuted it in May.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

This political drama from Aaron Sorkin – who writes and directs – tells the story of protests at the 1968 US Democratic convention, and the subsequent prosecution of those who organised said protest. The film had been set for a US cinema release in September 2020, ahead of the American Presidential election in November. But uncertainty over cinema openings led Paramount to sell the film on to Netflix.

The deal is said to be worth just north of $50m, and Netflix is set to debut the movie in the autumn of 2020.


There had been chat about getting a brand new Shaft movie going for some years before New Line Cinema picked up the rights to do so back in 2015. Warner Bros had released the original movies, with Paramount overseeing the 2000 remake, starring Samuel L Jackson.

The new film attracted Samuel L Jackson and Richard Rowntree to each reprise their generational take on the title role, with Jessie T Usher playing Shaft Jr. Tim Story, of the Ride Along and original Fantastic Four movies was hired to direct. By August 2017, it was all ready to go.

But the Warner Bros-owned New Line wanted to limit its exposure. Thus, ahead of filming, it struck a deal with Netflix to share the $30m budget. In this case, Warner Bros retained the American distribution rights, and Netflix was able to release the movie on its streaming service just two weeks afterwards. Filming began in February 2018, and the film was released around the world in June 2019. The US box office was negligible, at $21m. Reviews weren’t too kind either.


To lesser fanfare, Paramount struck a further deal with Netflix towards the end of 2018. In fact, it struck two. One was to actively make films for the service, but the other was to sell on its horror film Eli.

This one has been directed by Sinister 2 helmer Ciaran Foy, and it’s the story of a boy receiving treatment for his autoimmune disorder, only to discover that said clinic isn’t all that it seems. The film had been in development for a couple of years, and shooting began in January 2018. Thus, by the time Paramount decided to move the project on, it was well into post-production. Paramount had originally announced a January 4th 2019 release date, but was said to be struggling with working out how to market the film. It thus cut its losses.

Netflix picked up the $11m movie, and is releasing it onto its service today.


Warner Bros is another studio that’s had its fair share of battles at the box office over the past few years. That said, it would have considered it had a potential hit in the form of Andy Serkis’ big screen adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The problem was a competing live action project from Disney, that was directed by Jon Favreau. And Disney was winning the race to get its film on the big screen first.

For Warner Bros, it had announced its film in 2012, with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu originally earmarked to direct. Then Ron Howard was on its radar. Then finally in 2014, it confirmed Serkis had the job. A starry voice cast followed, led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale.

But throughout production, Warner Bros didn’t seem to know quite how to sell it. The film changed title from Jungle Book: Origins to Mowgli: Tales Of The Jungle Book. Then the release date kept moving back. Then the word coming out was that this was going to be a darker take on the material.

Filming began in 2015, with inevitably a lot of performance capture work to undertake. Still, an October 2016 release had been the original plan. That clearly wasn’t going to happen.

Behind the scenes, Warner Bros though was struggling to work out what to do. Disney’s film came out and cleaned up nearly a billion dollars at the box office. And in the end, it was confirmed in the summer of 2018 that Netflix was picking up the movie. It was marketed in the end as simply Mowgli, and finally saw the light of streaming day in November 2018. It got a pretty decent response too, not least for its visual look.

The Circle

The high profile movie adaptation of Dave Eggers’ book The Circle attracted a stellar cast. Tom Hanks and Emma Watson took the lead roles, with Karen Gillan and John Boyega in supporting roles. And the techno-thriller was brought to the screen by James Ponsoldt, co-writing the script with Eggers.

STX stumped up the budget, with the movie costing some $18m to make. Economical, certainly, for a Tom Hanks-headlined project, but still a high profile film. This one got a US release too, with that didn’t quite go as hoped. The movie grossed around $20m in the US when it landed in April 2017, and signs were not great for lots of cash coming in from other territories. As such, with very little fanfare, the UK release rights were sold to Netflix, who with equally little fanfare dropped the movie on the service on June 30th of that year.

Red Notice

The most expensive project to date to go from studio to streaming service to date. Red Notice is a hugely ambitious global heist thriller, that’s from the team of director Rawson Marshall Thurber and star Dwayne Johnson. The pair have thus far made Central Intelligence and Skyscraper together, and when Red Notice – also written by Thurber – was announced, a studio bidding war erupted.

But it wasn’t going to be cheap. The film’s budget sits in the $150m range, but Universal decided to take the plunge. The film was dated for November 2020 was a result.

However, a few things happened afterward. Firstly, Johnson’s box office results dampened a little, with the double hit of Rampage and Skyscraper falling below expectations, even if both were hits. Then, Universal reportedly was a little worried that the project was slipping just a little behind schedule. It paid for and wanted a tentpole picture, and it seemed there was a chance it was going to slip.

With the timeline clauses in the contract apparently being, er, stretched a bit, Universal opted to back out of the project. Thus, over the summer, in stepped Netflix. Netlfix’s involvement instantly upped the budget, as it has to pay the talent more up front to mitigate the fact they won’t get box office performance bonuses. Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot have joined the cast too, and don’t be surprised if the final price beats $200m, that’d make it Netflix’s most expensive film to date.

Production is underway on the film. It may just make it to being Netflix’s big Christmas movie for 2020, but no new release date has thus far been announced (and given the shutdown in production due to the virus outbreak, it’s most likely we’ll get it in 2021 now).


Superintelligence is the latest movie from star Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone, with the pair having made Tammy, The Boss and Life Of The Party together, films they also wrote and produced.

The pair’s newest film, Superintelligence, had been scheduled for release in cinemas this Christmas. But it’s now been announced that the Warner Bros movie will be debuting instead on one of the firm’s services, HBO Max. Unusually, a statement insists that the idea for this came from McCarthy and Falcone themselves. They apparently took the idea to Warner Bros, who backed it. As such, the film will now debut on HBO Max in the US next spring.

Beverly Hill Cop 4

After bouncing around development hell for years, and following many aborted attempts to get the film off the ground, Paramount has opted to partner with Netflix on the long, long mooted Beverly Hills Cop sequel.  It comes at a time when belated sequels are more of a risk than they used to be at the box office, and it can’t have escaped the studio’s notice how something like Men In Black International failed to catch on over the summer. As such, the strong likelihood now is that Beverly Hills Cop 4 will debut on Netflix, with no guarantee of a theatrical run. Paramount has a deal to make films for the streaming service, and this is likely to fall under that.

And one more thing…

Ferdia Shaw in the Artemis Fowl movie

Finally, there’s the case of Artemis Fowl, Kenneth Branagh’s film of Eoin Colfer’s book, that Disney had originally intended to release in 2019. It delayed the release date to 2020, and has subsequently its cinema run altogether in the light of the coronavirus shutdown. Instead, it went straight to Disney+ in June.

 Lead image: BigStock

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