Amazon is Producing and Acquiring Movies That Will Play Theaters and Then Stream On Their Own Site

By  · Published on January 20th, 2015

Until recently, my reason for paying for Amazon Prime was merely about being able to get diapers in two days without having to leave the house. The streaming service attached to that two-day-shipping deal was also good for my kid’s Dora the Explorer addiction, but that’s about it. Then Transparent came along and gave me something to watch “free” on Amazon Instant Video, too. As for movies, though, it’s never been of interest, especially since it hardly ever seems to have anything that Netflix doesn’t also have (by the way, they’ve noticed the concern enough to have a page for “Not on Netflix” offerings, including Under the Skin and Cheap Thrills), and anyway Netflix is a whole lot easier to watch on a mobile device or tablet.

Amazon Studios is likely to develop more original series as good as Transparent or good enough, and given that they’ve already secured Woody Allen for his first episodic endeavor, they obviously have some money to throw at some interesting creative talents. But still, what about movies? Well, after recently hiring indie film legend Ted Hope, producer of such titles as The Brothers McMullen, The Ice Storm, American Splendor, Adventureland and Martha Marcy May Marlene, the online conglomerate is entering the big leagues by producing and acquiring about a dozen features per year under the banner Amazon Original Movies. Presumably, as it makes sense, the acquisition side will kick off at the Sundance Film Festival, which begins this week.

Given that Hope is head of production, we can expect more independent type fare, even with the stuff not acquired at festivals. That should be quite a lot of alternative programming to the original material Netflix is working on (cough, Adam Sandler, cough). I wonder if they’ll also keep relationships with filmmakers going, in that we’d see the next features from Woody Allen and Transparent’s Jill Soloway finding homes with Amazon in addition to their shows. I’m dreaming of a new world where auteurs continue to flock to television but then are permitted to also make movies through and for the same outlet. Maybe that’s not where we’re heading with this, but that sure would be great.

A lot of responses to Amazon Original Movies are focusing on the distribution plan. These pictures will open theatrically and then debut on Amazon Instant Video Prime only a month or two later. Theater owners are understandably upset that audiences will often choose to wait for these releases rather than seeing them on the big screen. But that’s not much different than things already are. I don’t believe the length of the wait for people with certain titles is a major factor, whether it’s four weeks or four months. They’re just going to wait. Plus, that first window is strictly for Amazon exclusivity. People who continue to not want to pay for Prime won’t, and they’ll wait even longer, and they won’t care.

Instead of all that noise, we should be focusing on the most significant aspect of Amazon’s new venture: more movies, more opportunities for filmmakers, and both them weighing more heavily on the side of quality than quantity of content. But we’ll revisit that important aspect once we start seeing what AOM greenlights and picks up, hopefully as early as this weekend.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.