Producer Battle Over Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ Leads to Weird Netflix Deal
Earlier this week, Paramount raised eyebrows when it was revealed that the studio had cut a deal with Netflix for distribution rights to Annihilation — the new sci-fi film from Ex Machina filmmaker Alex Garland. The project, which stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, will debut on the streaming service 17 days after it hits theaters. The implication of such a deal is that Annihilation might not be very good, or at the very least, the studio doesn’t have much faith in it. But to anyone familiar with Garland’s work, that seems totally bananas.
THR reports that a battle of wills erupted behind the scenes of Annihilation, with Skydance Productions head David Ellison casting doubt on the film’s ability to connect with audiences. Following “poor” test screenings over the summer, Ellison grew worried that the film would be “too intellectual” and “complicated” for audiences — despite the fact that Ex Machina, which was also intellectually and thematically complex, performed well. And then there’s the case of the critically and commercially-acclaimed Arrival, another heady sci-fi release from Paramount that the studio came dangerously close to dumping before Amy Adams stepped in.
As it turns out, Paramount is merely caught between Ellison and another producer, Scott Rudin, whose credits include awards season favorites like The Social Network and No Country For Old Men — films that also had the potential to alienate audiences due to their “intellectual” content and cynical tone.
Ellison demanded changes to Annihilation, including a more upbeat ending and making Natalie Portman’s character more sympathetic (in the book, her character is a bit stoic and cerebral, which is kind of important to her arc). Rudin had Garland’s back, but more crucially, he had final cut on the movie, and though he managed to refuse Ellison’s demands and preserve his filmmaker’s creative vision, Paramount seems to have gotten cold feet from the whole thing.
And that’s where the Netflix deal came in. The streaming giant has agreed to pay for half of the film’s $55 million production budget — that’s cheap for an ambitious sci-fi blockbuster, and hardly makes Annihilation a “risk.” Still, Netflix has taken international distribution rights and will release the film 17 days after it opens in theaters, on February 23. As part of the deal, Annihilation will only play in theaters in the U.S., Canada and China, thus losing some potential international box office; a move that seems counterintuitive.
It’s worth noting that maybe Ellison’s opinion shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. His producer credits include Terminator Genisys, Geostorm and Baywatch. Who are you going to listen to? The guy who produced those movies, or the Oscar-winning producer behind The Social Network? C’mon.