Amazon’s First Original Film Is Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” Expected In Theaters This Year

Amazon announced this morning its move into feature films will begin with the debut of the first-ever Amazon Original Movie, Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.” The drama, which is Lee’s next major film, stars a number of big names including Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, and is focused on a more serious story of gang violence in inner-city Chicago.

The company’s intention to enter into the film business was first unveiled this January. Through its production arm, Amazon Studios, Amazon will now be backing theatrical releases that have a shortened window before they become available for streaming. That is, while typical Hollywood movies tend to arrive 39 to 52 weeks after they premiere, Amazon said that its movies would reach Amazon Prime Instant Video in just 4 to 8 weeks after they hit the big screen. At the time of the announcement, Amazon said its goal was to produce 12 movies per year.

The creative development at Amazon Original Movies is being headed up by Ted Hope, whose Good Machine production company previously launched notable films and Academy Award-noms like “Eat Drink Man Woman,” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” for example. Coincidentally, the upcoming sequel to “Crouch Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is not appearing on Amazon, but is rather among the slate of upcoming Netflix original films instead.

Both Amazon and Netflix are now angling their way into the movie industry, following their efforts in the TV arena, as a means of building their respective streaming service brands with a consumer audience. As with their other exclusive, original shows, Netflix and Amazon’s films give the companies another tool to entice subscribers to join their service, or, in Amazon’s case, its Prime membership program which includes free streaming. As each scores high-profile titles with big Hollywood names attached, they have the opportunity to establish themselves as the only place (or at least the first place) where some of these movies or series can be streamed.

To some extent, the brands are already succeeding with making their names known as the streaming home associated with quality content. For instance, most consumers know that “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black” are shows you can watch on Netflix, while recent award winner “Transparent” is on Amazon Instant Video.

With “Chi-Raq,” Amazon has yet to announce details involving the movie’s theatrical launch date, or which distributors it’s working with. Nor has it confirmed the exact window between the movie’s theatrical debut and its arrival on Amazon’s video service. However, Amazon did say that “Chi-Raq” wrapped its Chicago production last week. Meanwhile, IMDb points to a 2016 release because the film was originally planned for a premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, but the latest news is that the film is due to open in December in order to qualify for participation this year’s Oscars race.

A December premiere will put Amazon’s first original film release slightly behind that of Netflix’s, which announced that Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” will release on October 16 on its servcie. However, with Netflix’s films, the company is pursuing a slightly different strategy – it’s launching the film online at the same time as it arrives in select U.S. theaters.

Image credit: AP/Victoria Will