Apple has charted the first round of release dates for its original film slate — which includes the tech giant’s grand entrance into American movie theaters.
With the help of three boutique distribution companies, Apple will be taking titles including Anthony Mackie’s “The Banker,” Minhal Baig’s “Hala” and the buzzy wildlife doc “The Elephant Queen” into select cities nationwide before the titles upload to Apple TV Plus, Variety can report exclusively.
“The Banker,” which stars Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as unlikely real estate and finance moguls in the Jim Crow era, will open in the awards corridor on December 6. New York-based distributor Bleecker Street is consulting on the release, two insiders close to the project said. It’s expected to hit Apple TV Plus in January.
“The Elephant Queen,” which premiered in New York this week, will open in theaters October 18 and be available for Apple’s streaming customers when the expanded platform launches on November 1. Indie powerhouse A24, with whom Apple has a five-picture overall deal, will consult the company in bringing that to theaters, another insider noted.
“Hala,” a Sundance breakout about a Muslim girl reconciling her family traditions with modern high school life, will open November 22 and come to Apple TV Plus sometime in December. Greenwich Entertainment, which took out the recent Oscar winner “Free Solo,” will advise Apple on that release.
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Two individuals with knowledge of the company said Apple has also been crafting the strategy with former IMAX head Greg Foster, who has been one of many consultants ushering them into the content space. Tim Cook’s shop has also made contact with NATO, the trade group representing major chains like AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas, to express their desire for a productive and fruitful relationship. While conversations have been introductory, one individual close to the talks said their pitch could be summed up as: “We don’t want to be Netflix.”
Netflix has had a notoriously contentious relationship with theater owners in the U.S. and around the world as it has risen to market dominance, mostly over the refusal to make subscribers wait 90 days before being able to view original Netflix films. Amazon Studios has fared much better with theater owners, taking an opposite position on the release window — a tactic the company is about to up-end with the Nov. 15 release of Adam Driver drama “The Report,” which will only play in theaters for two weeks before hitting Amazon Prime Video on November 29.
While Netflix and Amazon have used prestige dramas to great effect (“Roma” and “Manchester by the Sea,” respectively), Apple intends to give multiplexes some commercial-leaning fare. Sofia Coppola’s “On The Rocks” is being eyed for a traditional theatrical release next spring, and was produced for Apple by A24. The film stars Bill Murray as a dysfunctional but charming dad to Rashida Jones, and although in very early stages of planning, it hopes to launch at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival before hitting theaters for a lengthy run, yet another insider said.
Here’s a bit more about Apple’s first round of theatrical films:
George Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau”) directs. Joel Viertel and Brad Feinstein produced through Romulus Entertainment, alongside Nolfi, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jonathan Baker, David Lewis Smith and Mackie. Executive producers on the project include Joseph F. Ingrassia, Jackson, Will Greenfield, David Gendron and Ali Jazaveri. “The Banker” script is from Niceole Levy, Nolfi, Smith and Stan Younger, with a story by Smith, Younger and Brad Caleb Kane. It tells the true story of Bernard Garrett and Joe Morri, two African American men who back-channeled their way to real estate holdings and bank ownership that allowed their communities to flourish under rampant systemic racism.
Baig is writer, director and producer on this project, based on a proof-of-concept short. It was also produced by Clarence Hammond and Jamal Watson. Jana Babatunde-Bey, Jada Pinkett Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Marsha L. Swinton, Ari Lubet and Aaron Carr are executive producers. The film stars “Blockers” and “Bad Education” breakout Geraldine Viswanathan as a teen girl finding herself torn between old and new worlds in the suburbs of Chicago. Co-stars include Jack Kilmer, Gabriel Luna, Purbi Joshi, Azad Khan and Anna Chlumsky.
“The Elephant Queen”
Emmy and Peabody Award-winning wildlife documentarians Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble direct, with narration from Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film played in official selections at Sundance and Toronto. The film centers around Athena, an elephant matriarch who fights to save her family when they are forced to leave their watering hole. The project explores themes of love, loss and the imminent threats against endangered species.