But “strong reviews and Mr. DiCaprio’s own box office history — especially with Mr. Scorsese — provide ample amounts of good will for audiences,” he added, and work in the film’s favor. “The market hasn’t had a high-profile film targeted toward adults for a while.” (“Oppenheimer,” with a similar run time and equally serious subject matter, defied odds this year and earned $942 million worldwide.)
While Apple has said very little about its shift in strategy, theater owners are ecstatic.
Apple is “a major company that has the ability to do a lot of high-quality work, and I think that the recognition on their part that movies belong in theaters is a strong signal,” Michael O’Leary, chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade association, said in an interview. “Prioritizing theatrical will help them get major filmmakers to come into their tents, and to create even more dynamic, entertaining fare in the years ahead.”
Mr. Scorsese and his co-writer, Eric Roth, began adapting David Grann’s nonfiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon” in 2017. Paramount agreed to finance and distribute the film but when the production costs soared, the studio brought in Apple in 2020 to finance the project. Others wanted it, said Mr. Thomas, who initially purchased the adaptation rights to “Killers” with his partner, Dan Friedkin. It was Apple, however, that guaranteed a full theatrical release — a must for Mr. Scorsese, whose last film, “The Irishman” for Netflix, had a truncated run in theaters.
Paramount stayed on in a deal that saw Apple reimburse the studio for its development costs on the movie and a portion of Mr. Scorsese’s overall deal, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were not public. Paramount controls all theater bookings and media buys for the film’s trailers and commercials, while Apple controls its publicity and marketing materials. Apple made similar, though less expensive, deals with Sony Pictures for “Napoleon” and Universal Pictures for “Argyle,” with Sony and Universal sharing the marketing costs with Apple and handling each film’s distribution.
And while all three studios would like the opportunity to enter into long-term partnerships with Apple, the tech giant has not committed to any one partner.
“I’d be surprised if they take a single-studio approach for distribution,” said Tim Bazarian, chief executive of Creative Strategy, a high-tech research firm based in Silicon Valley. “Apple is willing to work, and they have shown that they can work well, with multiple studios. I think that track is more likely to be what they’ll use in the future. They are extremely calculating.”