In the latest big acquisition move by Netflix, the streaming platform has acquired the worldwide rights to Mowgli, Warner Bros.’ completed live-action movie about the young hero of the Jungle Book stories. Motion-capture star Andy Serkis (Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings) directed the film, which is distinct from the 2016 live-action Disney Jungle Book remake. The film was slated for a theatrical release in October 2018 before Warner Bros. sold it to Netflix.
This isn’t the first time Netflix has picked up a film from a major movie studio for streaming distribution. It previously acquired the rights to Paramount Pictures’ The Cloverfield Paradox, a space horror movie originally titled God Particle, and released it earlier this year immediately after the Super Bowl. As with The Cloverfield Paradox, which was poorly reviewed by many critics, the Mowgli acquisition appears to be a means of risk reduction for Warner Bros., and it suggests the studio lacks confidence in the film.
Similar elements seemed to be at play in Netflix acquiring the foreign streaming rights to the Warner Bros. and New Line remake of Shaft and to Paramount’s Annihilation. In an interview with The Verge earlier this year, Annihilation director Alex Garland admitted that “there may be a mismatch between the stuff I do and opening weekends. I think the two things might not fit very neatly.” He suggests that taking Annihilation’s foreign to Netflix relieved some of the financial pressure for American success.
In the case of Mowgli, the Warner Bros. film was in a “twin film” race with Disney’s 2016 live-action version. Warner Bros. lost that battle, and the Disney version went on to gross $966 million worldwide.
“We found ourselves in this race with Disney and there was a [time] when we were neck and neck, in who would come first,” Serkis told Deadline. “Both studios wanted to be first.” By bringing Mowgli to Netflix, rather than aiming for a traditional theatrical release, “we avoid comparisons to the other movie and it’s a relief not to have the pressure.”
The first trailer for the film called it “the darkest telling of the beloved masterpiece” The Jungle Book by author Rudyard Kipling. Serkis’ film features an A-list voice cast for the iconic jungle animals of those original stories: Christian Bale as Bagheera, Benedict Cumberbatch as the villainous tiger Shere Khan, and Cate Blanchett as the snake Kaa. Netflix is now planning on releasing the film at some point in 2019.