BREAKING: After their recent first collaboration, Virunga, got a Best Documentary Oscar nom, Leonardo DiCaprio is setting his Appian Way banner in a multi-year first-look deal with Netflix for nonfiction projects that will air exclusively on the streaming service. DiCaprio’s goal is to mix philanthropy with filmmaking and generate docus with topical and provocative environmental and conservation themes. Those movies often play at festivals but have few opportunities beyond that to get eyeballs. With Netflix, these documentaries will have global distribution on the streaming service that now claims to have 57 million subscribers in 50 countries. That, plus DiCaprio’s brand name, opens these documentaries to a lot of potential eyeballs and an opportunity to create awareness for worthy issues.

indexDiCaprio will be the producer or executive producer for all the films and docu-series generated under the deal. It gives Netflix an extended relationship with another marquee movie name. The streaming service has the Adam Sandler-starrer The Ridiculous Six underway, the first of four movies Sandler will make to be broadcast exclusively on Netflix. The company has in a short span spent big for films that established distributors also bid on, paying around $17 million for the Jamie Dornan starrer Jadotville coming out of Berlin, and this week closing a $12 million deal for the Cary Fukunaga-directed Beasts of No Nation with Idris Elba.

NATO member theaters were quick to proclaim they will not play these films in major chain theaters, the same reaction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend when The Weinstein Company set that film for a Netflix premiere. The NATO protests seem more saber-rattling than anything; like Virunga, all these movies need is a small qualifying run for awards season, and perhaps a slightly larger rollout involving independent chains or screens that Netflix will reserve in four-wall deals. Netflix is paying those big bucks to satisfy the appetite of its growing streaming audience for original content.

virunga picSaid DiCaprio: “Working with Netflix on Virunga has sparked a shared vision about projects that we want to develop and bring to viewers. There’s never been a more critical time for our planet or more of a need for gifted storytellers to help us all make sense of the issues we face. Through this partnership with Netflix, I hope to give documentary filmmakers doing urgent and important work the chance to have their films seen immediately by audiences all around the world.”

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos called the deal a natural extension of its Virunga collaboration and said the new pact will result in “more thought-provoking, high-quality documentaries and docu-series.”