Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical has grossed over $33M in UK cinemas since its release on November 25 last year, picking up two BAFTA nominations along the way. In a unique deal, Sony/TriStar retained UK rights to the movie while Netflix financed the pic and took the rest of the world, debuting it on the service December 25 where it landed at No. 2 in the global Top 10 of English-language movies.
The Matthew Warchus-directed charmer then remained in the Top 10 every week through the end of January, logging over 77M viewing hours, and continued to perform in UK theaters. Meanwhile, Sony this year launched a sing-along version to play alongside the regular version in select UK cinemas.
At BAFTA this weekend, Matilda, starring Alisha Weir, Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough, is up for Outstanding British Film and Make Up And Hair. Its UK box office exceeds that of all the other Outstanding British Film nominees.
So how did Sony make magic with Matilda in the UK in a unique deal that also involves Working Title and the Roald Dahl Company?
For starters, Sony/Tristar owns film rights to Roald Dahl’s Matilda (which Tristar released as a movie in 1996). In 2011, the West End version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, based on Dahl’s 1988 novel Matilda, debuted to great acclaim, winning seven Olivier Awards and later transferring to Broadway where it took five Tonys.
In 2015, Sony/Tristar bought the film rights to adapt the West End stage show.
Nicole Brown, President of TriStar Pictures, explains, “We got rights to the musical and developed the script with Matthew Warchus, (composer) Tim Minchin and (screenwriter) Dennis Kelly, working closely with our producers at Working Title and the Roald Dahl estate. Simultaneously, Netflix was building their Roald Dahl relationship and identified Matilda as a target that was ready to go. We all figured out a way to work together and creatively, it was a wonderful partnership. We built something we’re all really proud of.” Netflix, which will stream Matilda in the UK beginning this coming summer, produced the film alongside TriStar, Working Title and the Roald Dahl Story Co.
Keeping the UK & Ireland rights was something that was spearheaded by what we understand was a determination on the part of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group Chairman & CEO Tom Rothman to create a theatrical experience on the iconic property’s home turf. It opened the London Film Festival to great acclaim.
“This was a very unique deal and a win-win for all,” says Brown. “The creative team had all the satisfaction of the streaming experience, but they also got that traditional and very rewarding experience of theatrical in the UK, the home of Matilda. It felt good, like we were giving back to the home of Matilda.”
It was a savvy move given Matilda (played by Alisha Weir in the film) is such a beloved character in the UK, but the movie also required an expansion beyond the theater crowd.
Ian George, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, Sony Pictures Entertainment, tells Deadline, “For us, it was about presenting a very broad proposition for UK audiences. It was clear from early test screenings there was something really magical about it… We were very clear this was made for the big screen and a theatrical proposition… We saw it as an 8-80 proposition.”
Continues George, “It was about being respectful to the West End property and audience but knowing you had to make it broader. The West End draws its audience from a very small area at the end of the day, whereas people going to the cinema in the rest of the country, we had to draw them in as well.” What’s more, “It was promising joy at a time pretty depressing out there.”
Warchus, the stage musical’s original director, “had a very clear vision for the aesthetic and how to build that cast… He really led the way,” says Brown.
Marketing played its part as well, with highlights including a gala screening featuring cast and filmmakers in attendance the week of release and participating in high-profile primetime TV and radio shows.The film trailered across key family and tentpole titles and the 360 campaign also included Sony’s longest radio promotion ever across the biggest commercial stations. Tie-ins with editions on the soundtrack and novel were further struck in partnership with Sony Music and Penguin Random House.
In other partnerships, the movie did a takeover of the UK’s biggest book retailer, Waterstones London Piccadilly, recreating the classroom of Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch) and the office of Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson).
Sony also worked with the UK’s biggest educational kids resource company, Twinkl, in partnership with the Roald Dahl Story Company producing over 40 resources spreading the message of Matilda in schools and family homes.
The Girl Guides, a young female empowerment group, was mobilized with nationwide exclusive screenings which resulted in their biggest movie ticket sales ever. In other exclusive screenings, the Feel Better with Film – MediCinema charity, which builds, installs and runs state-of-the-art cinemas in hospitals and places of care, gave patients and their families a night at the movies together. All proceeds from Matilda went to charity.
And, of course there was the viral TikTok sensation after the release of the “Red Beret Girl” dance clip In November 2022.
Netflix also participated in building buzz ahead of the UK release and did small theatrical releases in some of the markets where it has rights.
Would Sony do another similar pact down the line on another property? “Who knows what will make sense business-wise in the future,” demurs Brown.
And what about a sequel? Sony has all rights in the UK and made a Pay-1 (first tv window post-theatrical and post-home entertainment) pact with Netflix for the market. Since this was a one-picture deal, it’s our understanding that Sony and Netflix could mutually decide on a follow-up and what such a deal would look like.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is produced by Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan for Working Title, Jon Finn, and Luke Kelly of The Roald Dahl Story Company.