Apple TV+ has not yet launched, but they are the winners of a bidding war over a musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell. The exact number is not known, but when have we ever heard a reasonable number for a streaming deal? They probably paid nine figures for this, I'm gonna say, mess. There is only one good Christmas Carol and that is The Muppet Christmas Carol (runner up: Scrooged). Can’t we just air The Muppet Christmas Carol for twenty-four hours straight during the holidays and call it a day?
For this deal Reynolds and Ferrell are, as you'd expect of A-list stars, commanding fees in the $20-30 million range, which also includes producing fees for both. It's not that these numbers are shocking for stars of their caliber, it's just that, well, no one knows if it's actually worth it. With theatrical distribution, there is a sense what a Ryan Reynolds or a Will Ferrell movie is worth. But on streaming? No one knows which stars people tune in to watch, or if that is even a deciding factor with a model designed for convenience before all else. Do you watch Bird Box because of Sandra Bullock, or do you watch Bird Box because it's already auto-playing when you open the Netflix app?
Also, no one even knows if streaming itself is profitable! Kayleigh Donaldson and I talked about this on our podcast this week—no one has actually made money from streaming yet. Netflix has been at it the longest and they're riding a huge debt wave of untold size (estimates put it at $11 billion, it could easily be several billions larger). So these platforms are shelling out massive talent deals and adding to their debt burdens without knowing if they can ever really recoup that investment. I do understand that with streaming, talent essentially gives up residuals, so these inflated deals are meant to make up for that revenue loss, but this bubble WILL pop eventually. It can't go on forever.
And you will never convince me a musical version of A Christmas Carol—not performed by Muppets—is worth a probable nine figures unless it involves resurrecting Gene Kelly. But Sarah, why are you so sure this will suck, you may ask. Is it because you hate musicals and dread sitting through it? Well, yes. But also, it’s about sincerity. A Christmas Carol is a chintzy simplistic morality tale, but it’s a SINCERE chintzy simplistic morality tale. The reason the story has endured for over a hundred and fifty years is because of its sincerity, it truly makes us believe that for one day a year, the cruel can become kind and the good will be rewarded. That’s the reason the Muppets have the best film adaptation of the story—the Muppets are sincere, too.
Ferrell and Reynolds, however, are not exactly known for their sincerity. Ferrell can be sincere (see also: Stranger Than Fiction), but it’s not how we think of him as a performer, and Reynolds’ brand is smirky sarcastic irony. I don’t trust these guys to make a sincere adaptation of The Christmas Carol and nothing else will work. Maybe they will surprise me and Ferrell and, especially, Reynolds will come at this with total committed sincerity and they’ll make something wonderful. Or maybe they will, especially Reynolds, smirk their way through A Christmas Carol. If they do that, Apple will definitely have wasted their money.