EXCLUSIVE: In a move that could become more common as major studios lean in heavily toward their streaming launches, the Ben Falcone-directed Melissa McCarthy-starrer Superintelligence has exited its December 20 theatrical release date to instead become the first Warner Bros Pictures Group film to premiere on HBO Max.
This comes before an HBO Max presentation on October 29 where it is expected that other projects might become part of a streamer launch slate that now will have Superintelligence; the Steven Soderbergh-directed Meryl Streep-starrer Let Them All Talk; the Greg Berlanti-produced YA novel adaptation Unpregnant; and sooner or later Bad Education, the Hugh Jackman/Allison Janney-starrer bought at Toronto for north of $17 million to bow on HBO. The original programming will be part of a service that launches with WarnerMedia’s own library titles including Friends and The Big Bang Theory and third-party acquisitions including Sesame Street.
Amid the high-stakes battle for subscription streaming service launches by WarnerMedia, Disney, Comcast and Apple to go along with Netflix and Amazon, it isn’t hard to see how the prospect of being among the first marquee titles on HBO Max is enticing. Especially when mid-budget comedies and dramas are plagued by the optics of eight-figure P&A spends and heavy scrutiny on opening-weekend box office grosses. That doesn’t exist if you are launching on an OTT to a wide audience.
McCarthy and Falcone, long married and longtime frequent creative collaborators — they are now making their first Netflix film, Thunder Force — said the decision to move out of theaters and onto HBO Max was theirs, and that it wasn’t imposed on them by WarnerMedia, Warner Bros or New Line, which developed the comedy and shepherded the film through production.
“It was actually Ben’s idea, it came from the filmmaker himself,” McCarthy told Deadline. “We had a release date, a full marketing plan, and I had all my press lined up. We were really ready to go. When the announcement came that HBO Max was really happening, Ben had this idea. And we thought, is this better? Different doesn’t mean worse, and how are we watching films ourselves? To us, each movie is near and dear to our hearts. You just want people to see it and love it and you want them to feel good. Superintelligence at its core is, love wins, and people matter. I want that to get to as many people as it can. We need that today, and this seemed like the best way to do it. So no, [this wasn’t imposed on us]. We were ready to go the other way, and we decided to make the detour.”
When I brought up the perilous track many theatrical releases face these days, Falcone acknowledged it is something a filmmaker thinks about.
“I pride myself on living a fear-based life, and that won’t stop,” Falcone joked. “I don’t exactly remember the question, but I wanted to make that clear to you, and to everyone. Honestly, you can release a mid-budget movie, and if we’d stayed in the theaters, we could have done incredibly well. There still are those examples of movies like this one that do. But for this movie, at this time, we felt like it was the best way to go. The PG rating, the fact they are starting this thing. All these streaming services are starting, and here, we are up there with Sesame Street, and Meryl Streep and JJ Abrams and Hugh Jackman and Jordan Peele. There are cool people doing this. So following my fear-based mentality, I thought it was the best move.”
McCarthy and Falcone also felt a thematic fit as the film explores relationships in the backdrop of technological evolution. McCarthy’s character finds herself getting messages from her TV, phone and microwave and what she doesn’t realize is she has been selected for observation by the world’s first superintelligence, a form of artificial intelligence that is contemplating taking over the world. Steve Mallory wrote the script, James Corden voices the A.I., and Bobby Cannavale is playing her love interest.
“We made the film for New Line and Warner Bros, and there are different challenges in the way people watch films, how and where they see them on different platforms,” McCarthy said. “We were all geared up to open theatrically, and Ben was the one who said, this would be better for HBO Max. What a way to reach a massive amount of people, and to be put in pretty amazing company. It seemed like a win-win. We have two young kids, and we thought about how we watch movies. Superintelligence is PG, and we thought about how we watch these movies with our kids. We still go to the theater, and we love going to the theater. I would cry if that ever went away. But we watch a lot of movies at home, and a lot of people do. This just seemed like an exciting new way to get it in front of a lot of people.”
The move pushes the release of the film until sometime in the spring, and though a specific date hasn’t been decided, the couple is really warming to the platform.
“I urge you and all your friends to immediately subscribe to HBO Max,” Falcone said.
Added McCarthy: “Just give us your credit card, Mike, and we’d be happy to process it for you. And maybe give us your bank account numbers, too.”