Sony Pictures is weighing whether to offload several projects to streaming services in order to minimize the studio’s risk and maximize its profits. A trusted source tells Collider that newly-promoted Sony exec Sanford Panitch has had multiple meetings with Netflix’s Tendo Nagenda about selling off risky development projects, and the Hollywood Reporter‘s ace Kim Masters reports that the He-Man movie Masters of the Universe is among them.
Now, before you start with “the sky is falling at Sony” line of thinking, this is actually a smart move for the studio, from a business perspective. Every single movie is a risk, particularly movies like Masters of the Universe that have been stuck in development hell for a dozen years. While Sony has finally gotten the script to the point where the studio is ready to greenlight the movie, the IP isn’t nearly as hot as it once was, and marketing costs continue to rise. It costs so much money to market tentpoles these days that it has become even harder for them to turn a profit. According to THR, Sony’s marketing chief Josh Greenstein has reportedly been concerned about rising marketing costs, especially for costly flops like Men in Black: International that the public could sense weeks before opening. Back in the day, studios would simply throw money at the problem and “buy the opening.” Greenstein allegedly argued against throwing money after bad money. Which makes sense to me, not that sense always prevails in Hollywood.
Rising star Noah Centineo is attached to play Prince Adam in Masters of the Universe, but does he have what it takes to lead a major motion picture, or is he the handsome flavor-of-the-month? As a reporter, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but if I were a studio executive, I’m not sure that’s a gamble I’d be willing to take. So when THR says that Sony boss Tom Rothman is “exploring the prospect of getting risk-free cash for the pricey project by making it for Netflix instead,” that adds up. THR says the talks are “preliminary,” and Masters of the Universe is still on Sony’s release calendar for March 2021, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the two companies consummate a deal. After all, it’s a win-win for everyone, since box office is irrelevant to Netflix, where Centineo already has a fanbase thanks to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and The Perfect Date.
Sony wouldn’t be the first studio to sell dicey projects to Netflix, as Universal sold off the Michael Pena sci-fi movie Extinction, while Paramount sold off the horror movie Eli, which will debut on the streamer later this month. And Netflix doesn’t have to be Sony’s only customer, as the studio just sold off its Valiant Comics adaptation Harbinger to Paramount. I’m not sure what that says, if anything, about Sony’s upcoming Vin Diesel movie Bloodshot, which is also based on a Valiant comic. Oh, and who was Sony eyeing to co-star in Harbinger before it sold the project to Paramount? Noah Centineo, according to sources.
THR goes on to report that Sony’s TriStar label is already “devoting resources to streaming deals,” and that Paramount is “looking into dedicating a division to that purpose.” The trade even says that Warner Bros. may sell movies to outside streamers despite the fact that HBO Max is hungry for its own content. This on the heels of A24’s multi-year deal with Apple to produce a slate of films for the tech giant. Does this signal that studios are looking to get out of the theatrical business? Hardly. But it is a sign that they’ve acknowledged the fact that with the Streaming Wars upon us, it may make more sense to provide ammunition (i.e. movies) for the warring streamers than to compete against them with B-list tentpoles that require A-list marketing spends.
Disney and Universal seem to be in business for themselves for the time being, so any films they deem non-theatrical will head to their respective streaming services Disney+ (launching this November) and Peacock (April 2020).
The reason I imagine that Netflix is open to picking up Sony’s Masters of the Universe is that the streamer is already invested in that universe between the animated series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and the upcoming He-Man anime series from Kevin Smith. Frankly, I think a Noah Centineo-led He-Man movie would be eaten alive in this hyper-competitive theatrical landscape, and Sony would be wise to pawn the project off to Netflix, which skews younger and wouldn’t have to sink tens of millions into a marketing campaign.
Say what you will about Rothman, but he has done a pretty good job at the helm given what he’s had to work with. Not only was Venom a smash hit, but Spider-Man: Far From Home grossed $1.3 billion worldwide, while Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood topped Jordan Peele‘s Us to become the year’s highest-grossing original film with $360 million. Rothman also came to his senses and gave Disney a bigger piece of the Spider-Man franchise in order to keep the character in the MCU, since it’s his connection to the larger Marvel universe that was likely responsible for Far From Home‘s box office bump.
We’ll keep you posted as this situation continues to develop, but don’t be surprised if Sony sells off a few more projects to streaming services — especially Netflix, which in the future aims to open one tentpole-type movie each quarter, such as Michael Bay‘s 6 Underground starring Ryan Reynolds, and the upcoming Dwayne Johnson–Gal Gadot movie Red Notice.