Just over a year ago, it looked like an open-and-shut case.
Knives Out undeniably became one of the biggest movie hits of 2019, with viewers relishing in its star-studded ensemble and the writing and directing of Rian Johnson. A sequel was confirmed to be. Like “Knives Out,” these films are very clever in the way the characters act within the confines of their genre. “Scream” and “Scream 4” are available to stream on Hulu with a Showtime.
In February 2020, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said during a quarterly earnings call that the company was officially moving ahead on a sequel to Knives Out, the surprise box office and critical smash whodunit starring Daniel Craig and written and directed by Rian Johnson.
But on March 31, in a twist worthy of Agatha Christie, came the reveal that Lionsgate would not be releasing the sequel at all. Instead, two sequels would be made by Netflix, which inked a dagger-driving $469 million deal with Johnson and his producing partner at T-Street, Ram Bergman, both of whom are represented by CAA.
Deal points were noteworthy: The pact gave Johnson immense creative control, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. He doesn’t have to take notes from the streamer. The only contingencies were that Craig must star in the sequels and that each must have at least the budget of the 2019 movie, which was in the $40 million range. Sources say that Johnson, Bergman and Craig stand to walk away with upward of $100 million each.
The other company that missed out on the sequels was MRC, the Beverly Hills-based production firm that financed the first film. (MRC is also a co-parent of THR through a joint venture with Penske Media titled PMRC.) Sources say that MRC had a one-movie deal with Johnson and Bergman, the filmmaker and producer known for critically beloved, modestly budgeted one-off thrillers Brick and Looper before they made Star Wars: The Last Jedi. An MRC rep said the company was “proud” to have partnered with Johnson and Bergman on the first Knives Out and noted that the duo “have always controlled the rights” to the franchise. (MRC is a minority investor in T-Street but it won’t share in the new deal’s windfall as its stake in the production company occurred after Knives Out was already made, giving it no part of that movie.)
Sources note that Lionsgate had what was considered a solid deal in which the company had first right of negotiation and last rights of refusal, all part of the negotiation safety net with which companies normally shield themselves from losing projects. (Lionsgate and CAA declined to comment.) And Johnson and Bergman were considered big backers of the theatrical experience.
But that was before the pandemic hit, theatrical took a nosedive and backend became nonexistent. In January, with the pandemic in full swing and a hoped-for summer production start for a sequel, Johnson and Bergman questioned the near-term viability of theatrical releasing. CAA began shopping the deal and streamers like Netflix pounced hard. MRC and Lionsgate, which in normal times may have gotten the project, could not compete. “It became a perfect storm,” says one insider. “This would not have happened a year ago.”
For Netflix, despite the price tag, the deal made sense on several levels. The streamer gets an instant and proven franchise with sequels to a film that grossed $311 million globally. And it cannily weakens a theatrical competitor.
“Yes, it’s overpaying, but Netflix is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers,” says one streaming executive familiar with the deal. “It takes a proven theatrical commodity off the board and puts it in their pocket. And it’s another way they re-educate audiences to think of streaming and their company above a studio.”
For others, the deal shows the leverage sought-after talent is enjoying at this moment, thanks to the competition from streamers. “If you’re talent right now, and you want to bet on yourself, it’s a pretty good time.”
Best Movies Like Knives Out
A version of this story appeared in the April 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Movies Like Knives Out On Netflix Right Now
At the end of March 2021, shock waves went through Hollywood when Netflix announced that it would produce not one, but two sequels to Rian Johnson's 2019 whodunit Knives Out — for a hefty sum.
After the first film — which boasts a star-studded cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Colette, Chris Evans, Katherine Langford, and the late Christopher Plummer, among others — became a breakout success, earning $311 million at the box office on a budget of $40 million and scoring rave reviews from critics across the board, the movie's original studio, Lionsgate, was ready to kick off a bona-fide franchise. Alongside Johnson, Lionsgate announced, in February of 2020, that the writer-director would pen a sequel featuring the original film's star detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), featuring an entirely new mystery.
Now, it looks like Netflix has stolen Lionsgate's thunder by paying an astounding $469 million for two new Knives Out films. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the first film's overwhelming success, here's the real reason Netflix paid so much more for Knives Out 2 and 3.
The Knives Out franchise will be a huge hit for Netflix
Movies Like Knives Out On Netflix Release
As an analysis in The Hollywood Reporter reveals, Netflix's 'power play' in securing the Knives Out sequels comes down to a few particular factors: the COVID-19 pandemic, and a particularly shrewd deal the streamer offered to director Rian Johnson.
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THR reports that Netflix offered Johnson ultimate creative control of both films — meaning they won't even give him any notes or offer input — and as long as Johnson keeps the budget around $40 million and Craig stars in both films, the director and actor both stand to make huge money from the deal. Obviously, this must have been a huge draw for Johnson, but there's also another factor — the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the state of the film industry.
Watch Knives Out On Netflix
After movie theaters shuttered en masse thanks to the global health crisis in March 2020, plenty of huge films — including No Time to Die, Craig's final James Bond film — have been either shelved indefinitely or rescheduled repeatedly as the fate of the moviegoing experience is still unknown. With this in mind, it's likely that Johnson, aware that streaming services have become the de facto way for moviegoers to discover new content, knew that Netflix would be the safest bet as the film industry undergoes enormous changes thanks to the coronavirus crisis.
Netflix Knives Out Cast
In any case, Lionsgate is out where Knives Out is concerned and Netflix is in, and eventually, Netflix subscribers will get to watch these highly anticipated sequels right from their own home. For now, the first Knives Out movie — a perfectly crafted murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end — is available to stream on Amazon Prime.