In what has turned out to be a tour de force week for subscription streaming video premieres, Hulu's Prey stood out as refreshingly strong prequel take on the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic, Predator.
Disney put out a news release Tuesday touting the direct-to-streaming release of Prey on Friday as the Hulu joint venture's most successful premiere ever, on a time viewed basis, for an original movie or TV show.
Disney also said the movie, produced under the 20th Century Studios banner, was “the most watched film premiere on Star Plus in Latin America and Disney Plus under the Star Banner in all other territories, based on hours watched in the first three days of its release.”
Unlike Netflix, Disney didn't release specific streaming metrics. (Disney also didn't send its press release to us -- we had to track it down from other sources.)
The Prey success story is interesting for several reasons, starting with the timing of its DTC release, which occurred less than 24 hours after David Zaslav, CEO of rival Warner Bros. Discovery, delivered a stirring soliloquy in favor of traditional theatrical windows.
"We will fully embrace theatrical as we believe it creates interest and demand, provides a great marketing tailwind and generates word-of-mouth buzz as films transition to streaming and beyond," Zaslav said, shortly after word leaked out that WBD had terminated a nearly finished film, Batgirl, earmarked by the previous Warner management regime for DTC premiere on HBO Max.
While WBD has radically pivoted from former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar's pandemic-influenced decision to release the entire 2021 Warner slate day-and-date to SVOD, Disney seems to have carved out a more nuanced approach.
For example, it's latest Pixar film, Lightyear, returned to more traditional, post-pandemic theatrical-only window structuring. But Disney was flexible in regard to Prey, a mid-budget film, featuring lightly recognized talent. The film stars Amber Midthunder as a female Comanche warrior, battling the Predator franchise's famously deadly, tech savvy big-game-hunter from another planet, amid the backdrop of the colonial North American West 300 years ago.
Notably, Next TV can corroborate Prey's 92% Rotten Tomatoes score and declare that it's pretty good. Director Dan Trachtenberg gets solid performances and a pretty believable level of what-Comanche-life-might-have-been-like authenticity from a cast of largely Native American actors.
The action sequences and juxtaposition of the latest "predator" to hunt Earth's most dangerous game are all clever in execution.
And the evolution of a strong sibling bond between Midthunder's heroine, Naru, and her warrior chief older brother, Taabe (played by Dakota Beavers) is a nice bonus surprise, culminating in that most coveted of franchise payoffs, use of the catchphrase: "If it bleeds, we can kill it!"
Of course, for Disney distribution strategists, there was a legacy to overcome, and not always the good kind.
Directed by John McTiernan and co-starring Carl Weathers, Predator belongs in a pantheon of classic 1980s films, along with James Cameron's Aliens, that effectively blended brilliant sci-fi/horror concept with a top-notch action stories and an A-list cast.
But every attempt to follow up on the Predator franchise, save for 2004's gimmicky Alien vs. Predator, was a box-office dud.
The bottoming out might have come with the most recent iteration, 2018's The Predator, which generated a 33% aggregation score and only $161 million in global box office, which was probably not enough to cover prints and advertising for the film. (Next TV can corroborate that Rotten Tomatoes score too -- it may have been the worst movie we ever saw in a theater.)
Disney “might have had a tough row to hoe if going theatrical,” one distribution exec told The Hollywood Reporter in regard to Prey.
Certainly, the subscription streaming premiere slate for the last week hasn't been an easy market to compete with, either. Apple TV Plus premiered Luck, John Lasseter's first animated film since being forced out of Pixar; Amazon Prime Video had Ron Howard's compelling Thirteen Lives, a dramatic retelling of the 2018 cave rescue of a Thai youth soccer team starring Viggo Mortensen; Peacock had the critically mauled but still intriguing They/Them, with Kevin Bacon starring as the MC of a particularly creepy LBGTQ conversion camp; and Netflix debuted the long-anticipated series adaptation of DC Comics' The Sandman, as well as Season 3 of Lock & Key.
Also notable, Netflix saw pop from low-budget romantic drama Purple Hearts, which led the platform with more than 102 million viewing hours last week.
Like Naru, Prey emerged atop them all, enabling Disney's DTC team to present a nice trophy to studio chief Bob Chapek and the rest of the tribal elders.
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Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!