Over the Aug. 5-7 weekend, social media was buzzing over the new movie Prey, the umpteenth installment in the Predator franchise. Many wondered why 20th Century and Disney didn’t open the movie in cinemas, considering the theatrical calendar for August is notably light this year. Instead, Prey debuted directly on Hulu.
On Tuesday, Disney said the film scored the No. 1 premiere on Hulu to date, including all film and TV series debuts. Additionally, the pic was the most watched film premiere on Star+ in Latin America and Disney+ under the Star banner in all other territories, based on hours watched in the first three days of its release. Disney did not share total hours viewed, as Netflix does. Since companies don’t report streaming viewership numbers into a central clearinghouse, there’s no third-party verification.
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Prey was long destined for streaming, with preproduction underway prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was not among the movies that changed course once the pandemic struck.
Disney believes that sending the movie straight to Hulu — which, like other streamers, is competing to become a destination for original content — was a smart decision, and it’s impossible to say whether Prey would have benefited from a theatrical release. One veteran box office analyst says 20th Century and Disney likely made the right choice by sending it directly to Hulu, considering that the last film in the series, 2018’s The Predator, was a bust that tarnished the brand. “They might have had a tough row to hoe if going theatrical,” the source says.
The Predator franchise has a checkered box office history. The 1987 original impressed with a domestic gross of nearly $60 million on a $15 million budget, but the most recent installment in the franchise to be released theatrically, The Predator, fell flat with $51 million domestic and $160 worldwide gross after being made for a reported $88 million. The most successful film to feature the Predator was 2004 crossover movie Alien vs. Predator, which earned $177 million worldwide.
Talking to THR in March of this year, 20th Century head Steve Asbell noted that with the exception of two or three theatrical releases a year, 20th Century titles will launch on Hulu domestically and Star+ internationally. It is important to note that 20th Century movies that do receive a theatrical release have an output deal with HBO Max that was engineered before Disney acquired 20th Century Fox.
As for 20th Century’s Hulu slate, Asbell said that genre films that Disney doesn’t make in other divisions — like midbudget sci-fi films of the Predator variety — would be the domain of his studio when it came to straight-to-streaming projects. “In order to meet the volume that we are looking at — which is, by 2023, 10-plus movies just for streaming — it’s going to be a combination of originals in those genres. And coolest of all for fans, we get to find bold takes on beloved Fox properties.”
Set in the 1700s, Prey stars Amber Midthunder as a young Comanche woman that is hoping to prove herself as a hunter when she encounters the homicidal alien at the center of the Predator franchise. Dan Trachtenberg, who had a great showing at the box office with his last feature film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, in 2016, directed from a script by Patrick Aison, based on a story from the duo.
Fans of the Predator franchise showed a definite affinity for Midthunder and Trachtenberg, according to analytics and polling firm ScreenEngine. Overall, the movie skewed male, as has been common for the past Predator films. (ScreenEngine doesn’t reveal viewership numbers.)
Asbell said in his previous interview, “We get more of these at-bats, and we can make more bets on new talent.” One of those bets was Prey, which was an original take on a well-known IP but featured a largely unknown cast.
Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek has repeatedly stressed the importance of being flexible when it comes to making and distributing content across different platforms. That policy won’t end as the industry emerges from the pandemic.
Other studios are going in the opposite direction as moviegoing resumes. Earlier this month, Warner Bros. Discovery stunned Hollywood when shelving Batgirl, an original HBO Max project, as part of WBD chief David Zaslav’s edict to focus on theatrical.
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