Netflix Makes Huge Move Acquiring Andy Serkis’ ‘Mowgli’ From Warner Bros.

In another example of both Netflix’s surprising power and the shifting landscape around major Hollywood blockbusters, the streaming giant has just purchased from Warner Bros. the worldwide rights to Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book reimagining, Mowgli. While they’ve made a lot of acquisitions of completed movies this is the biggest purchase they’ve made thus far.

Set to feature the voices and motion-capture performances of Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale, Idris Elba, Cate Blanchett, and more, Mowgli was to be a huge blockbuster event later this year. Instead, Netflix will move it off the October 19th release date and open it in 2019 on their streaming service, plus a theatrical component so the film can be seen in 3D as Serkis originally intended.

This is huge, but you can see why Warner Bros. would be quick to unload it. Originally titled Jungle Book: Origins, the film has always been running in the shadows of Disney’s acclaimed, Jon Favreau-directed The Jungle Book. Serkis’ film was always intended to be a darker, adult-oriented take on Kipling’s stories, which naturally limits the potential audience. But the biggest hurdle was simply following in the wake of Disney’s movie, which is still very fresh in audience’s minds.

Serkis tells Deadline that he’s happy to see his film head to Netflix where it’s free to be aimed at older audiences…

“I’m really excited about Netflix for Mowgli,” Serkis said. “Now, we avoid comparisons to the other movie and it’s a relief not to have the pressure. I’ve seen the 3D version, and it’s exceptional, a different view from the 2D version, really lush and with great depth, and there will be some kind of theatrical component for that. What excites me most is the forward thinking at Netflix in how to present this, and the message of the movie. They understand this is a darker telling that doesn’t fit it into a four quadrant slot. It’s really not meant for young kids, though I think it’s possible that 10 or above can watch it. It was always meant to be PG-13, and this allows us to go deeper, with darker themes, to be scary and frightening in moments. The violence between animals is not gratuitous, but it’s definitely there. This way of going allows us to get the film out without compromise.”

“I think this is their largest acquisition, it’s a big movie,” Serkis said. “But I never looked at it as a big blockbuster movie. It’s hard to quantify. It has the scale of a blockbuster, but it’s somewhere between Life of Pi and an Apes movie. It has that reality to it, same as Okja had. We are talking about 2019 and circling dates. Netflix has allowed the film making that I wanted to do, to exist and they’ve created an atmosphere for me kind of storytelling I set out to do. “

This is nothing new for Netflix, which is gaining a reputation as the place to be for projects deemed as potential money losers. Already this year they’ve released two troubled films, Annihilation and The Cloverfield Paradox, with both generating a decent amount of buzz. More importantly, they give Netflix the swagger of a go-to studio for blockbuster content.