Apple Inc will begin making independent, feature-length films through a multiyear partnership with the Oscar-winning studio A24, broadening the iPhone maker’s push into original content beyond TV programming and into movies.
New York-based A24 will produce multiple films for Apple, according to people familiar with the partnership. The world’s most valuable company, which last year allocated more than $1 billion to build out a slate of scripted shows, is following the playbook of Amazon.com Inc. and Netflix Inc. in pushing into feature-length, adult-oriented films.
Previously, Apple’s original-content team had only signed deals for the documentary film “The Elephant Queen” and a family-oriented, animated film, “Wolfwalkers.”
A24 became one of the buzziest companies in Hollywood quickly after its founding in 2012. Its films are often more successful in provoking cultural conversation than profiting heavily from ticket sales, a signal the Apple deal is more about brand cache than box-office windfalls.
In 2017, its movie “Moonlight” won the Oscars for best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor. The film wasn’t released widely in theatres and was among the lowest-grossing movies ever to win the best picture.
Apple declined to comment on whether any of the A24 films will have theatrical releases.
Netflix has resisted wide theatrical releases for its original movies, only showing feature films like “Mudbound” in a handful of locations in order to adhere to Academy Awards rules that require a theatrical release to qualify for an Oscar. Amazon has stuck with a more traditional model of releasing movies like “Manchester by the Sea” in theatres in multiple markets before they are available to stream on its service several weeks later.
The movies deepen Apple’s push into original content. As the worldwide smartphone market sputters, the iPhone maker is trying to accelerate a growing services business that includes app store sales, mobile payments and a music-streaming subscription offering. Its emerging strategy is to offset the slowing number of iPhones it sells by growing revenue through a combination of higher-priced devices and software and services sales.
The company last year poached top Hollywood executives—Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg—from Sony Corp. to spearhead its video effort. The executives, who oversaw Sony Pictures Television productions such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Crown,” will oversee the push into feature-length films, the people familiar with the partnership said. They have previously signed deals with media mogul Oprah Winfrey and actor and producer Reese Witherspoon for a series of shows that are expected to debut next year.
Apple has twice postponed the launch of its first slate of shows, moving it to March from late this year, according to people familiar with the change. The company wants the shows to support a video service on its TV app that could be bundled with subscriptions such as iCloud storage or future device sales, those people said.
A24’s success comes as major studios have shifted their focus away from adult-oriented art-house offerings to big-budget franchise titles like “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.”
A24 hasn’t shied away from edgier fare: One of its first releases, “Spring Breakers,” featured former Disney Channel stars appearing as debauched college students. The filmmaker has released dozens of movies in recent years, but many have played in a handful of theatres or gone straight to video. The company’s widest release came this year with the horror film “Hereditary.” After it bought the project for distribution at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie made $44 million in the U.S. and Canada.