Farming

With ‘Knives Out’ Deal, Netflix Signals It’s in the Franchise Business

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“The pandemic has really hit streamers with theatrical distribution,” said James Moore, managing director of Vine Alternative Investments, an entertainment industry-focused asset manager. “Now you see the economy really accelerating towards the streamers, and they have both the essentials and the strategic need to maintain those profits.”

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April 16, 2021, 1:30 p.m. ET

“Knives Out,” with a cast led by Daniel Craig and Chris Evans, earned $ 311 million in theaters, nearly half of that in international markets – the biggest growth opportunity for streaming services. It was one of the few box office winners in recent years that didn’t rely on a comic book or existing intellectual property tied up in a lengthy studio deal.

(John Krasinski’s 2018 “A Quiet Place” is another example. But this R-rated horror film was owned by Paramount and was such a box office boon that its sequel was one of the few films the studio held on to while pandemic. Scheduled to hit theaters on Memorial Day weekend.)

For the original “Knives Out”, Mr. Johnson’s representatives at the Creative Artists Agency negotiated a licensing agreement for a film with the film’s distributors, MRC and Lionsgate. That deal gave Mr. Johnson and his production partner Ram Bergman control of the franchise and the right to buy-in future iterations from other parties. (Mr. Craig, who played southern arch detective Benoit Blanc in the film, is also a party to the deal.)

The film is part of a tried and true genre – the star-studded whodunit – that has been reinvented in recent years. “Murder Mystery” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston was a 2019 hit on Netflix. Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 reinterpretation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” worked well for Disney’s Fox division, raising $ 352 million, including $ 250 million from international markets. (A follow-up, “Death on the Nile,” was postponed to 2022, in part because one of its stars, Armie Hammer, was recently tarnished by a sex scandal.)

The “Knives Out” deal also shows how much easier it is for a streaming service to take advantage of a title they already know than to create one themselves. While Netflix had great success with the Sandra Bullock film Bird Box from 2018 – 89 million households tuned in to watch the film within four weeks of its release – it is preparing for a sequel, one Spanish-language version that will not feature the original star.

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Robert Dunfee