The Predator movie franchise may never have scaled the heights of the original 1987 film — a thrilling action classic, directed by John McTiernan and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — but the three sequels to date have been reliable theatrical experiences and reliably profitable at the box office. (The latter also applies to the trashier Alien vs. Predator spin-offs.)
So it’s a surprise to see the latest movie in the series, Prey, go straight to streaming on Hulu. Though it has a stripped-down premise, presenting a clash between an alien Predator and a Comanche warrior 300 years ago, word of the mostly positive reviews is that the film would play well in theaters if it had the chance (indeed, that is how some critics saw it). Prey would probably be a welcome addition to the relatively quiet late summer release schedule for audiences and theater owners alike.
Not only that, but by debuting only on streaming, PreYes swims against the current. While some studios tried to push movies to streaming to increase their subscriber numbers during the pandemic, the box office has bounced back well and truly this year, led by the extraordinary success of Top Gun: Maverick. Studios are now betting on theatrical performances for movies in well-known franchises — such as the Predator series — to boost their profitability. And they’re turning their backs on direct-to-streaming releases, even to the extent that Warner Bros. canceled his HBO Max batgirl film completely.
So what gives with? Prey? The answer, as so often with questions like this, doesn’t come down to cunning strategy, but to boring business stuff – and maybe a little sour grapes.
Predator is owned by, and Prey is made by 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox). Disney acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019. Disney also has a majority stake in Hulu, where it likes to post its more adult-oriented content that isn’t under the Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, or Marvel brands. (In the US anyway; internationally it all just goes on Disney Plus.)
But, according to Adam B. Vary. from VarietyBefore it was acquired by Disney, 20th Century Fox had a deal with HBO Max to stream all of its theatrical releases there. This deal still applies to all films created before the Disney merger. This explains why recent 20th century releases such as: free man, nightmare alley, West Side Storyand Death on the Nile have appeared on HBO Max instead of or alongside Hulu or Disney Plus.
It’s the grandfather of 20th Century Fox/HBO deal; the same reason Free Guy went to HBO Max instead of D+. All 20th titles created before the theatrical release merger must go to HBO Max. If PREY got a theatrical release, the same thing would happen. AND THAT’S FORBIDDEN, apparently.
— Adam B. Vary (@adambvary) July 20, 2022
This is clearly gnawing at Disney as it works to build its streaming audience. In case of Prey, it appears the company has decided it would rather forgo a theatrical release for the film than have it appear on HBO Max. According to an interview director Dan Trachtenberg gave to Uproxx, Disney wants to use Prey as the first major franchise 20th century production to boost subscriptions to Hulu.
“Hulu hasn’t really… There hasn’t been a 20th franchise baby yet,” Trachtenberg said. “So they’re hoping to really ignite the platform by saying, ‘We’re not just releasing the smaller, cheaper rate. That this is also a place to have massive cinematic experiences.’” Prey is definitely a flashier proposition than recent Hulu hits like nomad land or Palm Springs.
Given the current box office climate, Disney may have chosen to give up Prey a theatrical run, if all things were equal. But it isn’t, and Disney would rather deny audiences this theatrical experience and hopefully entice them into a Hulu subscription than let a competitor get their hands on the precious Predator IP.