YouTube has announced it is making a movie in-house to be released in theaters, in a development seen as a step towards the model of new-media innovator Amazon.
"Vulture Club," which is in post-production, stars Oscar winner Susan Sarandon ("Dead Man Walking," "Thelma and Louise") as an emergency room nurse whose son is been kidnapped by terrorists.
Directed by Iranian-American Maryam Keshavarz ("Circumstance"), the thriller also stars Edie Falco ("The Sopranos," "Nurse Jackie") and Matt Bomer ("Magic Mike," "American Horror Story: Hotel").
"'Vulture Club' follows the singular journey of a woman abandoned by her government who finds community in the most unexpected places," Keshavarz said in a statement.
"It's an honor to work with Susan Sarandon, Edie Falco and Matt Bomer who are the incredible talents and an innovator like YouTube to tell this timely story."
Online entertainment magazine IndieWire hailed the move by YouTube Red -- the Google-owned company's $10-a-month streaming service -- as "a significant strategy shift."
The platform showed Barbara Kopple documentary "This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous" on limited New York and Los Angeles theatrical runs ahead of its February YouTube Red release.
But the company appears to have changed direction since telling IndieWire last year it was not making movie theaters a fulcrum of its release strategy.
- 'Powerful perspective' -
YouTube Red, founded in 2014, has distributed around a dozen feature-length fictional movies for its subscribers and is working on a handful more.
It moved into films for the general movie-going public with sci-fi comedy "Lazer Team" in January 2016, but that was a low-budget project with unknown actors that failed to make a dent at the box office.
"Vulture Club," with its all-star cast, belongs in a different league alongside two other recent YouTube Red acquisitions -- Eminem's satirical hip-hop drama "Bodied" and Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!"
While the Eminem movie is also bound for theatrical release, YouTube dropped the Spurlock sequel after the filmmaker admitted to sexual misconduct and harassment in the past.
In "Vulture Club," Sarandon -- recently nominated for Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for FX miniseries "Feud: Bette and Joan" -- plays a mother who struggles to free her kidnapped journalist son.
After running into roadblocks with government agencies, she discovers a clandestine community of correspondents and advocates who might be able to help the war reporter, played by Julian Morris ("Pretty Little Liars").
"This emotional drama grapples with relevant issues journalists around the world face today," said Susanne Daniels, YouTube's global head of original content.
"Maryam Keshavarz lends her powerful perspective as an Iranian-American filmmaker, and Susan Sarandon's moving performance immediately drew us into this compelling film."
- Sanctity of cinema -
YouTube Red said principal photography on "Vulture Club" was complete, but gave few details on its theatrical release other than confirming its big-screen debut would precede its streaming release.
Netflix has shown little regard for the perceived sanctity of cinema, annoying some filmmakers -- notably Christopher Nolan -- and sparking calls for bans from film festivals by debuting its movies online only or at the same time as in theaters.
Amazon Studios, on the other hand, has partnered with Bleecker Street, Lionsgate and other entertainment companies to give its original movies a theatrical window of several weeks ahead of their internet release.
The company is now accepted in the industry as a conventional movie studio, its back catalogue including Oscar nominees and winners such as "The Big Sick," "Manchester by the Sea" and "The Salesman."
The company plans to average approximately one movie a month and its upcoming in-house theatrical slate includes Luca Guadagnino's horror remake "Suspiria" and Gus Van Sant drama "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot."
"We don't have any news to report on a theatrical partner at this stage. Perhaps later once we identify a partner," a YouTube Red representative told IndieWire of "Vulture Club."