NOT DEADLINE...separates the truth from fiction (every Tuesday) in entertainment news


Not Deadline’s spidey senses tingled when it was announced that Rian Johnson’s company had made a two picture ‘put’ deal with Warners Bros to finance and distribute two projects that both sides could agree on in the name of what Rian and Ram called  Warner Bros. “renewed committment to the theatrical experience” (which is interesting since Rian and Ram gave KNIVES OUT 2 and KNIVES OUT 3 to a distributor with the exact opposite philosophy). Otherwise, in the article, there was no mention of exclusivity or terms or timeframe or of who will bring what financing to the table or who will own the copyright. There’s no mention of anything beyond an agreement to try to agree on two projects. Because of the vagueness (and because of some other things), we get to speculate about the future of KNIVES OUT 3.

The film that launched Rian as a talent to be reckoned with was a very, very small but respectful 45 screen theatrical release for BRICK given the film’s left-of-center style and a cast of young ‘unknown’ actors. The next film, BROTHERS BLOOM, was intended to have a wider theatrical release beyond 209 screens, but it didn’t test well enough to inspire the studio to go wider. It wasn’t until LOOPER exploded into the wide 3,000 theater screen release that Rian’s dream came true…followed by STAR WARS which released on everything with a white background (including bedsheets). And then came KNIVES OUT, the widest release of Rian’s ‘original material’ career. 3,500 screens. On the eve of this eagerly anticipated milestone, Rian emphasized the importance of theaters when he told CINEMABLEND:  These days, it’s much more about attention. For me, it’s about the fact that if I’m in a theater I know that I can’t pick up my phone and look at it. I’m going to be able to zero in on that experience. I’m in the dark, and I’m with an audience of people who are having the same experience. I know I’m going to get the actual experience of the movie.

…and then, reinforcing his allegiance to the theatrical experience, Rian doubled down to THE INDEPENDENT: I think, ultimately, I do have this kind of doe-eyed optimism that when you sit down in the theatre and the lights go out, all of that garbage disappears. You’re having a pure experience of a movie. Whatever happens in those two hours in the theatre is between you and the screen….(cinemas) are a haven where you can believe for a few hours”. As easy as it is to lose hope – and as understandable (and sometimes necessary) as cynicism can be – there is a magic to cinema that lifts up the veil of darkness and dares to lay the path to a better future.

…which is why audiences and experts were both baffled and stunned when Rian moved not just KNIVES OUT 2, but also KNIVES OUT 3 from Lionsgate’s wide screen theatrical release strategy to Netflix’s anti-theatrical streaming model. Not just a theatrical opportunity was lost. It’s eighteen months later and counting that KNIVES OUT 2 is still not available for rent or purchase or streaming by anyone who doesn’t subscribe (or share passwords) to Netflix…which is unfortunate because the film would have inevitably found its way to Netflix anyways AFTER everyone around the world who didn’t subscribe to Netflix had the chance to see it by now.

Which brings us to KNIVES OUT 3. Rian recently tweeted out a KNIVES OUT 3 teaser with the title and the release year (2025) with the Netflix logo at the end ( Soon after, actors were announced as starring in the film. Jeremy Renner, good call. Josh Brolin, better call. Glenn Close, best call. 

This must mean that Rian’s wish for a wide theatrical release by Netflix (booking theaters directly or via an existing distributor…or how about the acquisition of a distributor? That wouldn’t happen, but cool to think about.) has been granted. Why? Because even though KNIVES OUT 2 had a token theatrical release (which Rian lamented privately and publicly), a newly discovered theatrical commitment by Netflix will reinforce everything Rian previously and recently stood/stands for as an artist. (Side note: since Netflix is going with the theatrical release model, good luck to them landing high profile film packages without contractually committing to as wide of a theatrical release as KNIVES OUT 3, which will blow up the Netflix business model and possibly the stock price.)

Ok. All set. Right? Not necessarily. This is where ‘what if?’ comes into play. What if Netflix sticks to its business model and does what it has always said, and does not do anywhere near the 3,000+ screen wide release? Rian has two choices. Do nothing and roll with it (which is his right of course…but, it would just seem counterintuitive to the passion he’s expressed for theatrical)…OR do unto Netflix what he did unto Lionsgate. Take the Knives Out sequel away from Netflix and put it through Warner Bros. (or through some other theatrically committed distributor).

Can Rian do this? Of course! Recall at Lionsgate’s pre-Golden Globes party in early January 2020 when Rian told the Hollywood Reporter he wanted to be in production on KNIVES OUT 2 within a year. Chairman of the Motion Picture Group, Joe Drake, said he couldn’t wait to read the script when it was ready.  Soon after that, the CEO of Lionsgate (Jon Feltheimer) announced to the world that KNIVES OUT 2 was officially greenlit and, subsequently in another call, he stated that the production would start filming soon…

…until the announcement was made in late March 2021 that Netflix had acquired the sequel rights. How could this happen? Jon Feltheimer said (in 2022) that Rian had always retained the sequel rights and decided to shop them elsewhere. Rian added during an interview with ScreenDaily on Dec. 16th 2022 that the deal with Lionsgate was only a single picture license and that his team had been shopping and pitching the sequel around town. Ok, if what both parties say is true, then how farfetched is it to suspect that Rian has a similar ‘out’ in his Netflix contract that allows him to shop Knives Out 3 before the film comes out. And no, it’s not too late even if a teaser trailer has been released with the Netflix logo at the end. That’s child’s play.

Another angle regarding this Warner Bros. announcement has to be pointed out. If Rian isn’t adding KNIVES OUT 3 to the ‘put’ deal or to any other theatrically attracted distributor and is instead reserving these ‘puts’ for new filmmakers, it will just seem odd that Rian is putting a priority on theatrical for others and not himself (ie. Knives Out 3). Second, it will put the agencies who represent the filmmakers of these ‘put’ films on the spot to assess early on if they want their client’s film to forego an open auction (if the film is good enough) for a premature  ‘put’ at Warner Bros. which doesn’t necessarily guarantee a specific kind of release and could mean less money for the agency and for their clients. Yes, it does mean financing, but T-Streets first two films AMERICAN FICTION and FAIR PLAY were auctioned and scored homeruns for all involved). Third, the ‘put’ slots will give the films created by newbies additional opportunities to release culturally significant material that perhaps has a bit more of a cultural impact than Rian’s recent material. AMERICAN FICTION being the perfect example.  Smart. Irreverent. Pitch perfect execution (except for the ending…too many chefs overthought it) with a lot of insightful things to say about a lot of things. An Oscar worthy adaptation (it should have also won Best Picture hands down as well as a Best Actor Oscar for Geoffrey Wright), the resonance for years to come of this little gem will shine for a long time to come. Is this what Rian wants? Is it what he needs? Wouldn’t he rather aspire to be Christopher Nolan aka the gold standard for singularly devoted (to themselves in the sense of removing outside distractions) filmmakers in the spirit of Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Fincher, Tarantino, Villeneuve, Aronofsky. (random side note: T-Street has to be commended for rolling the dice on AMERICAN FICTION. It does speak to a knack for betting on the right talent)

Time will tell which format KNIVES OUT 3 is widely released on/in (and by whom), but regardless…Not Deadline’s wish is for Rian to return to that fertile ‘imaginative world-building inhabited by brand new characters’ mind of his and leave Star Wars and any more Knives Out sequels in the rear view mirror. It’s time.

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