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Apple’s ‘Napoleon’ wows movie theater bosses at CinemaCon

Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon”, a film originally created by Apple for its streaming platform, was the unlikely hero of the movie industry’s CinemaCon gathering on its opening night Monday.

The historical epic starring Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte will first be shown exclusively in theaters this November, under Apple’s recent and industry-shaking pivot toward worldwide big-screen releases for its films.

Sony Pictures, which is partnering with Apple to distribute the film to cinemas, dedicated the finale of its coveted CinemaCon opening night slot to the movie.

Footage of a brutal battle sequence, in which French forces led by Napoleon ambush an enemy army atop an icy lake, drew raucous cheers from the assembled audience of theater owners.

“Old school, big screen,” Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman said.

“Epic is the only proper description of that Apple Originals film,” he said, in a show of praise for a streaming company that would have been almost unthinkable at CinemaCon previously.

The CinemaCon summit brings owners of theaters together with Hollywood studio bosses and A-list stars. Speakers typically make sure to praise the unique “magic” of the big screen — and to throw a few barbs at streaming services.

But a recent report that Apple plans to spend $1 billion per year on movies that will play in theaters before they move to its Apple TV+ streaming platform has been a major boon to cinemas still reeling from the pandemic.

Also this year, Apple’s Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be released in theaters by Paramount, while streaming rival Amazon recently put its Ben Affleck drama “Air” in theaters first.

Analysts say both Apple and Amazon hope that such high-profile releases in theaters will ultimately boost awareness of their streaming platforms’ offerings.

The trend also offers a potential financial windfall to Hollywood studios willing to distribute the films to theaters.

Rothman said Monday he was “honored” Apple chose his studio “from among many suitors” to release “Napoleon.”

He described the film as “uniquely significant for Sony” and for movie theaters more generally, promising to give the film “a full throttle marketing campaign.”

Tech giant Apple has previously only given very short theatrical releases to its films — typically just long enough to meet the minimum requirements for a film to be eligible to compete at the Oscars.

The tactic earned Apple a best picture win last year with “CODA”, the first for a streaming platform.

“Napoleon” reunites Scott and Phoenix more than two decades after their previous historical epic “Gladiator.”

It chronicles Napoleon’s origins and his rise to become a military leader and emperor of France, as well as his volatile relationship with his wife Josephine, played by Vanessa Kirby.

CinemaCon runs until Thursday.

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