Seth Rogen’s next film, An American Pickle, is about a turn-of-the-last-century immigrant who accidentally gets pickled and preserved before being restored to life in the present day. So basically, it’s Encino Man, but with a pickled immigrant instead of a frozen caveman and much less shirtless peak Brendan Fraser. This sounds like exactly the kind of dumb premise Rogen and his producing partners Evan Goldberg and James Weaver have a lot of fun with, and I expect a lot of “we can’t tell a 1900s man from a 2010s man” jokes, although I do think Portlandia already made the best possible version of this joke:
An American Pickle is going straight to streaming later this year, as it was just picked up by HBO Max. This gives HBO Max an A-list feature film, which they need especially since they’ve lost their marquee piece of original programming for launch. It also gives Sony, the original distributor through Rogen and Goldberg’s Point Grey production pact, some desperately needed cash. In fact, I’ve heard Sony is looking to offload all of their remaining 2020 movies, as they’ve already rescheduled their franchise and tent pole films for 2021. (A big question mark surrounds Tom Hanks’ World War II drama Greyhound, which was supposed to come out this summer but was not included in Sony’s blockbuster rescheduling. It seems likely they will sell that one to a streaming service, which is not only giving up on adult-oriented action-dramas at the theater, but also giving up on Tom Hanks’ star power to get butts in seats.) This is the first in what will likely be a series of streaming deals for Sony.
It will also be interesting to see how this performs for Rogen. The last time he had a movie go straight to digital, it was The Interview’s disaster-release following the Sony hack. (Did you read the lengthy report The Hollywood Reporter did late last year that basically absolves The Interview of playing a role in the Sony hack?) The Interview was modestly successful on digital, mostly garnering curiosity views. But streaming and digital rental technology has come a long way in six years, and more importantly, audiences are MUCH more used to watching first-run movies at home, so we can get a better sense of what a Seth Rogen movie is worth in the digital marketplace. This is an important stat, because Rogen can still deliver blockbuster numbers on mid-sized budgets at the theater. Sure, Long Shot was criminally underappreciated last year, but Rogen’s other R-rated comedy, Good Boys, made over $100 million against a $20 million budget. He’s one of the last mid-budget theatrical flagships standing. If, however, streaming/VOD ends up being just as lucrative—if he can drive subscribers to HBO Max—his theatrical power might not matter, and mid-range comedies will be destined for streaming, along with everything else that isn’t superheroes.