The Predator film franchise might never have reached the heights of the original 1987 film – a suspenseful action classic, directed by John McTiernan and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – but its three sequels to date have been entertaining theatrical experiences reliably and profitable at the box office. . (The latter also goes for the trashier Alien vs. Predator spinoffs.)
It is therefore a surprise to see the last film of the series, Prey, skip straight to streaming on Hulu. Although it has a stripped-down premise, featuring a clash between an alien predator and a Comanche warrior 300 years ago, word from largely positive reviews is that the film would play well in theaters if given the chance (in effect, which is how some critics saw it). Prey would likely be a welcome addition to the relatively quiet late summer release schedule for audiences and theater owners.
Not only that, but by making its streaming-only debut, Prey swimming against the current. As some studios sought to push movies to streaming to boost subscriber numbers during the pandemic, the box office did rebound this year, driven by the extraordinary success of Top Gun: Maverick. Studios are now betting on theatrical releases of films in well-known franchises – like the Predator series – thus increasing their profitability. And they’re turning their backs on direct-to-stream releases, even to the extent that Warner Bros. canceled his HBO Max bat girl film completely.
So what gives with Prey? The answer, as so often with questions like this, doesn’t come down to trick strategy, but boring business gimmicks – and maybe a bit of sour grapes.
Predator belongs to, and Prey was made by 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox). Disney acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019. Disney also owns a majority stake in Hulu, where it likes to put its more adult-oriented content that isn’t under the Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, or Marvel brands. (In the US, anyway; internationally, it’s all on Disney Plus.)
But, according to Variety’s Adam B. Vary, prior to its acquisition by Disney, 20th Century Fox had an agreement with HBO Max to stream all of its theatrical releases there. This agreement still applies to all films created before the Disney merger. This explains why recent 20th century versions like free guy, alley of nightmares, West Side Storyand Death on the Nile appeared on HBO Max instead of or in addition to Hulu or Disney Plus.
It’s the grandfathered 20th Century Fox/HBO deal; same reason Free Guy went to HBO Max instead of D+. All 20th titles from the theatrical pre-merger are to be released on HBO Max. If PREY were to hit theaters, the same thing would happen. AND THAT IS FORBIDDEN, apparently.
— Adam B. Vary (@adambvary) July 20, 2022
This clearly goes against Disney as it strives to grow its streaming audience. In the case of Prey, it appears the company has decided to forgo a theatrical release of the film rather than allow it to appear on HBO Max. According to an interview director Dan Trachtenberg gave to Uproxx, Disney wants to use Prey as the first big-ticket franchise production of the 20th century to generate Hulu subscriptions.
“Hulu hasn’t really had… There hasn’t been a 20th franchise baby come out yet,” Trachtenberg said. “So they’re really hoping to ignite the platform to say, ‘We’re not just offering smaller, low-budget fares. That it’s also a place to have giant cinematic experiences.’” Prey is certainly a flashier proposition than Hulu’s recent hits like nomadland Where Palm Springs.
Given the current box office climate, Disney might well have chosen to give Prey a theatrical run, if all things were equal. But that’s not the case, and Disney would rather deny audiences that theatrical experience and hopefully entice them into a Hulu subscription, rather than let a competitor get their hands on the prized Predator IP.