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Rakuten’s Movie Plans Take Off with ‘Hurricane’ Starring Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson (EXCLUSIVE)

VOD service lines up slate of films under the ‘Rakuten Cinema’ brand

Rakuten TV is making a major movie play in Europe, and will invest millions of Euros into production this year and next. The streamer is on a mission to crunch release windows and the first project it has invested in is “Hurricane.” The World War II action thriller has “Game of Thrones” star Iwan Rheon, and Milo Gibson, who starred in “Hacksaw Ridge.” It will launch on Rakuten TV and in movie theaters in the U.K. on the same date in September.

Rakuten TV, which launched as Wuaki.tv and rebranded after being acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, has partnered with Kaleidoscope Entertainment on “Hurricane.” The streaming and download service will also release a yet-to-be-announced Spanish movie this year, and is working up a slate of up to five films from different European territories for 2019.

The plan, company founder and CEO Jacinto Roca told Variety, is to coproduce, invest, and acquire rights so that Rakuten Cinema is the brand for day-and-date movies. He said its investment in independent film in Europe is a boon for indies, who will benefit from more timely releases in theaters and on digital. “For producers it allows them to distribute content more widely,” he said.

“We are in a situation in the industry where great things have happened around TV shows, but the distribution of movies is still challenged,” Roca said. “We are bringing the cinema experience to the living room of European households. We are trying to prove that you can launch movies in a shorter window versus theatrical.”

He added that shortening windows will benefit everyone, including movie theaters. “If we move the windows closer it will be a win-win. Theaters will not be impacted in our opinion, people will still want that experience. Shorter windows also mean the marketing investment that the studios are making on the theatrical release can also benefit digital.”

In financial terms the film investment will be single-digit millions of Euros this year and double-digit in 2019. Rakuten will not, with the first titles at least, take exclusive digital rights to projects it cofinances, meaning the films will also be available on electronic-sell-through sites.

Rakuten came on board “Hurricane” as an early coproducer on the $10 million project. BAFTA-winner David Blair directs. Based on a true story, it follows a group of Poles who fought with distinction alongside British Royal Air Force pilots, in by-then-outdated Hurricane fighter planes. Rheon plays Polish flying ace Jan Zumbach. Stefanie Martini, Marcin Dorocinski, and Krystof Hadek also star.

“Not only is the film a visual spectacle, with brilliant performances and a fabulous authentic look and feel, but by partnering with Rakuten and hitting a key audience demographic, with our combined vision for the film and release plan, we hope to maximiz the commercial returns for everybody involved,” said Kaleidoscope CEO, Spencer Pollard.

Kaleidoscope Film Distribution is the global sales agent on “Hurricane,” which is produced by Krystian Kozlowski of Prospect 3, Matt Whyte of Stray Dogs Films and Lipsync Productions.

Rakuten TV operates in 12 countries in Europe, mostly on a pay-per-view basis. In Spain, where it is headquartered, it also offers an monthly SVOD service.

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