MGM to Help Amazon Build on Its Success With Bigger Movies

Variety Intelligence Platform

The $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM will supercharge Amazon’s ongoing evolution on the film front, where an early focus on awards season is making way for more commercial titles that have notched notable wins for Prime Video.  

In recent months, Amazon has seen its interest in distributing big-budget original films pay off with titles “Coming 2 America,” the Eddie Murphy starrer for which Amazon paid $125 million to Paramount, and “Without Remorse,” the action film Amazon purchased for $105 million in 2020. 

Those two films were the top two most watched Amazon films in 2021 (Jan. 1-May 25) among TVision panel members, according to data from TVision provided to Variety Intelligence Platform. 

In addition to his already bustling Amazon Studios division, founder Jeff Bezos now finds himself with a storied Hollywood studio with a deep library containing beloved movie and TV franchises. Think about how so much of MGM’s catalog of over 4,000 films, including box office smashes like the “James Bond,” “Pink Panther” and “Legally Blonde” franchises, are ripe for long-term exploitation.  

When you think about the streaming marketplace Amazon’s Prime Video finds itself in today, now seems like the perfect time for Amazon to push for the rights to film productions of well-known franchises.   

HBO Max is debuting event films like “Godzilla vs. Kong” (reported $160 million budget) the same day they hit theaters throughout 2021. Netflix's 2021 film slate includes big action movies like “Army of the Dead” (distributed in about 600 theaters) and “Red Notice” (potential $200 million budget). Disney is releasing “Cruella” and “Black Widow” on Disney+ and in theaters at the same time.  

Spinoffs based on MGM's library will be appealing to consumers who are becoming accustomed to subscription services regularly dropping big new films based on old IP. 

Something still on the blockbuster docket for Amazon is most notably the sci-fi thriller “The Tomorrow War,” starring Chris Pratt. Amazon reportedly purchased the film, which will debut July 7, for $200 million.  

Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke conceded Amazon could be more active on the blockbuster film front in a late-February interview with the New York Times, saying, “We don’t have a huge bench of big blockbuster movies in the works.”  

Amazon had over 14,400 movies in its U.S. catalog as of Dec. 1, versus roughly 3,900 for Netflix, according to data from Reelgood previously provided to Variety Intelligence Platform. Amazon’s great library size is due to its acceptance of certain submissions from filmmakers wanting distribution on Prime Video, which has allowed for questionable content to pop up in the past. Familiar franchises from MGM may help Prime Video market itself as more of a place for marquee films.

MGM will propel Amazon further from its roots as a source for critics’ favorites dating back to 2017, when it became the first streaming service to secure a Best Picture Oscar nomination for “Manchester by the Sea” and Best Foreign Language Oscar win for “The Salesmen.” In 2018, Amazon’s “The Big Sick” was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, though that was also the year Reuters reported Amazon planned on going after bigger-budgeted films at the expense of indie films. 

Amazon did already have a rather successful year with its prestige film push, seeing as it just nabbed two Oscars for “Sound of Metal” (compared with zero wins in 2020).  

But “Sound of Metal” might not have reached the same number of Prime Video subs that something like “Without Remorse” or a James Bond remake can.  

Of course, time will tell what balance MGM will strike between putting movies in theaters versus Amazon’s own streaming platforms. Longtime 007 franchise producers Eon Films already indicated that the next Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” will get a traditional distribution push.  

But who knows what will happen to the Bond movies of the future.