Inside the Hybrid Theatrical Release of ‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’

The “Magic Mike” franchise is, at the center of its Red Bull-pumping heart, about hustling.

Hustling for cash, for love, for good times, for protein powder at wholesale. Over 11 years, Channing Tatum’s stripper odyssey has produced two films, a reality dance competition, and a transatlantic stage show. Still, somehow, it keeps hustling up new opportunities. 

A third film in the series, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” will open on 1,500 screens this Valentine’s Day Weekend despite being greenlit and budgeted as an HBO Max exclusive. It is one of the few films in the streaming era to get pulled into cineplexes in reverse. Warner Bros., according to multiple people involved in “Last Dance,” saw room to experiment with the release based on several factors: concept, feverish response from test screenings, and ticket presales. 

First was the return of Steven Soderbergh to the director’s chair. The Oscar winner helmed “Magic Mike” in 2012 and served as cinematographer on its sequel “Magic Mike XXL.”  In 2021, when the staged “Magic Mike Live!” premiered on London’s West End, the director once again heard the siren call of Ginuwine’s “Pony.” 

“I was really activated by seeing the final version of the live show,” Soderbergh told Variety. “I’d seen it in a workshop phase, but I wasn’t really prepared for what it became. I immediately jumped on the phone and said I would like to make a movie about how Mike creates a live show. I like films about problem solving, and this captured a lot of ideas in character, relationships, and even sociological issues.”

The ah-ha moment for Soderbergh came during “Magic Mike Live!” when one of the dancers singled him out for a one-on-one in the theater.

“I loved the attention to detail in the conception of the live show, down to something as simple but important as — a guy comes over and starts dancing on me, and I’m like, ‘He smells really good.’ And you realize that matters,” Soderbergh said. “I felt very aligned with it philosophically, in terms of how they really wanted to capture that sense of care.”

Soderbergh and Tatum went off to make their movie, thinking it was a “pure platform play.” In “Last Dance,” Tatum’s Mike has been left busted once again after a business deal gone wrong. Now bartending in Florida, a chance meeting with a wealthy socialite (Salma Hayek) upends his world and puts him at the lead of a London dance revue. 

After screening a first cut, Warner Bros. began conversations about a limited theatrical release to hype Mike’s return, Soderbergh said. The talks were followed by a test screening outside of Los Angeles in Orange County, he said, and the audience response led the studio to double down on its commitment. 

“We looked at how many screens we can grab in top markets to eventize the film and prepare people for the fact that it would be coming eventually to the platform. The good news is the studio is being very fluid and there’s a real opportunity here for all of us to learn a lot about what a hybrid theatrical release looks like,” Soderbergh said. “Finding a good scale to put something out wide enough to entice fans of the Magic Mike Universe but not overspend.” 

Soderbergh said marketing costs for a full theatrical release campaign on a movie like “Last Dance” would typically run $30 million to $50 million. The current campaign has been largely digital, relying on Tatum and Hayek’s combined reach of over 72 million social media users. While presale numbers were not disclosed, studio insiders said they’re strong. There’s a particular uptick in private theater rentals in markets like suburban Florida, where groups of girlfriends will foreseeably gather to witness Mike’s magic, the insiders added.

Pointing to previous box office performance for the franchise, Soderbergh said the interest has always been there on paper. The first film opened to a staggering $39 million (on a reported $7 million budget). “Magic Mike XXL” opened to just $13 million in 2015, but grinded out to close to $70 million in its domestic run on a reported $15 million budget. 

“The film is showing up at a good time because it’s such a joyful movie,” Soderbergh says. “I’m also curious if there is a space still for mid-range movie budget aimed at adults – one that’s not by standard definition a fantasy spectacle.” One good omen, he said, is that he’s not battling a foul-mouthed CGI bear. 

Both “Magic Mike” and “Magic Mike XXL” opened up against Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg’s “Ted” films. This weekend, however, “Last Dance” will have to compete with a re-issue of James Cameron’s “Titanic.”

“Well,” Soderbergh said, “we know how that ends.” 

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