‘Red One’ Deal Highlights Amazon’s MGM Acquisition Rationale

Photo illustration: VIP; Johnson: Richard Shotwell/AP

Amazon Studios is furthering its push to have its original film identity be defined more by blockbuster original films. 

The company on Monday announced that Dwayne Johnson will star in “Red One,” a forthcoming Amazon original film with a planned 2023 release.  

Budget details are unclear, but Amazon described the film as a “globe-trotting, four-quadrant action-adventure comedy” and secured the deal in a highly competitive bidding situation, indicating the film will be one of the more expensive productions on which Amazon picks up the tab. 

The success Amazon has recently seen with its more costly projects likely encouraged it to commit to “Red One.” 

“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, were the top two most watched Amazon films in 2021 (Jan. 1-June 28) among TVision panel members, according to data from TVision provided to Variety Intelligence Platform.  

The deal for “Red One” also highlights why Amazon was smart to pursue its $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM. 

While Amazon indicated “Red One” could be developed into some sort of franchise, it needs much more re-inventable IP if it hopes to keep up with big film pushes of competitors that come from parent companies with libraries of IP to mine or bigger content budgets (like Disney+ or HBO Max). 

Remember that Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke conceded Amazon could be more active on the blockbuster 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.”   

That’s where MGM comes in. Amazon now finds itself with a storied Hollywood studio with a deep library containing well-known film and TV franchises. Think about how MGM’s catalog of over 4,000 films, with box office smashes like the “James Bond,” “Pink Panther” and “Legally Blonde” franchises, are ripe for long-term exploitation.   

Looking at the streaming marketplace in which Prime Video finds itself today, now seems like the perfect time for Amazon to push for the rights to film productions of well-known franchises.    

HBO Max has been debuting event films like “Godzilla vs. Kong” (reported $160 million budget) the same day they hit theaters. 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). Paramount opted for sci-fi thriller “Infinite” to skip theaters for a Paramount+ release on June 10. 

Spinoffs based on MGM IP will appeal to viewers who are starting to expect streaming services to regularly reboot old IP for big new films.  

Something soon to be released on Amazon’s blockbuster slate is notably the sci-fi thriller “The Tomorrow War,” starring Chris Pratt. The company reportedly purchased the film, which will debut Friday, for $200 million.   

MGM will propel Prime Video further from its roots as a source of originals that supplied critics with 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 also won the Best Foreign Language Oscar for “The Salesmen.” 

In 2018, it became clear Amazon was looking to have more of a mainstream content push, as Reuters reported Amazon planned on going after bigger-budgeted films at the expense of indies.  

Amazon did just have a rather successful year with its prestige film push, seeing as “One Night in Miami” secured three Oscar nominations and “Sound of Metal” just nabbed two Oscar wins (Amazon had zero Oscar wins in 2020).   

But awards-seeking films like “One Night in Miami” and “Sound of Metal” probably don’t have the same broad appeal to Prime Video subs that something like “Red One” or a remake of James Bond — which would have to be approved by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson — can.