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Netflix's Mowgli to hit theaters before streaming, playing nice with Hollywood's A-list

Andy Serkis' mega-budget take on Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book screens Nov. 29 and streams Dec. 7.


Rohan Chand plays the title role n the Netflix film "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle."


Netflix subscribers, don't plan on a midnight binge if you want to be first to watch the star-packed, big-budget fantasy film Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. 

The movie by actor-director Andy Serkis -- which features an A-list cast including Benedict CumberbatchChristian Bale and Cate Blanchett -- will be available only in movie theaters the week before Netflix makes it available to stream online. 

It'll be the first time Netflix puts out a blockbuster-style movie in theaters before any of its subscribers can stream it. And Mowgli is only the fourth film that'll get an exclusive theatrical run from Netflix.  

For years, Netflix doggedly stuck to its practice of so-called "day-and-date" delivery, which premieres a movie on screens and on streams at the same time. It long rankled major movie exhibitors, prompting boycotts at first. More recently, the day-and-date strategy has worked against Netflix in attempts to recruit filmmakers and win prestigious awards. The Cannes Film Festival banned Netflix from competing because of its day-and-date strategy, and powerful Hollywood figures have grumbled that the Oscars shouldn't permit Netflix films as contenders either. 

Netflix See What's Next: Asia - Day 1

Andy Serkis speaks during the Netflix See What's Next event at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. 

Ore Huiying / Netflix

Then in an about-face last weekNetflix said it'd put three Oscar-bait films in cinemas for an exclusive period. Roma, a black-and-white drama by Alfonso Cuarón being hailed as a masterpiece, is getting the longest theatrical exclusive with a three-week run before it starts streaming Dec. 14. Like Mowgli, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, from the Coen brothers, and Bird Box, a postapocalyptic thriller starring Sandra Bullock, get a week in theaters before they start streaming. 

Mowgli will play in one theater each in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and London on Nov. 29, before widening to more theaters Dec. 6. It'll be available to stream on Netflix Dec. 7. 

Netflix bought Mowgli from Warner Bros. in July, believed to be one of the company's costliest purchases ever. As part of the acquisition, Netflix committed to giving the movie some sort of theatrical run. 

"I believe it's the largest ensemble cast of A-list actors for a motion capture role," said Andy Serkis at Netflix's See What's Next Asia event Wednesday. "They were interested in doing something out of their comfort zone."

Mowgli will feature a darker take on the story, compared to Disney's 2016 version of The Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau. Serkis said the movie tells the story of Mowgli, played by Rohan Chand, growing up in one particular family before having to assimilate to a new one, as well as dealing with everything else that comes up in the jungle.

Serkis added that care was also taken in animating the actors, blending the animals' and actors' faces together, with a sweet spot where you can see both the actor, such as Christian Bale, and the panther he plays, Bagheera.

Lastly, the actor-director mentioned that the Netflix deal made him "happy."

"It's a truly global approach and it doesn't just have to be a success at the US box office. I really genuinely felt happy," he said.

Originally published Nov. 7, 10:27 p.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 8, 7:57 a.m. PT: To add Mowgli's theatrical release plan. 

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