Universal Rescued Monkey Man From Netflix For Chump Change, And It'll Pay Off At The Box Office

Dev Patel's buzzy feature directorial debut "Monkey Man" is hitting theaters this weekend following its rapturous premiere at SXSW last month. Patel, known for his roles in movies like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Green Knight," is making a turn as both a filmmaker and action star with this one, which is being released theatrically by Universal Pictures and Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions. It also turns out that the studio managed to acquire the film for relative chump change after Netflix let the rights go.

According to Deadline, Universal acquired the rights to "Monkey Man" for less than $10 million. That is, in a word, shocking. Way back in early 2021, Netflix bought most of the global rights to Patel's action flick for a whopping $30 million. Yet, the film sat on a shelf collecting dust until very recently when it was revealed that Peele managed to rescue the film from said shelf. He then brought Patel's Indian actioner to Universal, with the studio deciding to give it the red carpet treatment.

Netflix is essentially eating the $30 million here, but it's not as though anyone is crying for the streaming service as it regularly throws around money like it's going out of style. Meanwhile, the investment should pay off in short order for Universal. Not only has the film been met with a great deal of praise from critics (read /News's "Monkey Man" review right here), but it's expected to earn at least $12 million over its opening weekend (although earlier box office estimates suggested it could make $20 million or more). That's just domestically. When international ticket sales are factored in, the studio will make its money back in no time.

The complicated politics of Monkey Man

So, what happened, exactly? Why did Netflix sit on the movie for literally years? Why did the streamer decide to eat the money in the end? Why did Universal get a bargain on this now-acclaimed action movie it stands to make a good deal of money from? It seems to boil down to Netflix wishing to avoid causing any issues with further deals in India, according to a report from World of Reel. The film deals with the lower and upper classes in India, with a fictional right-wing Hindu Nationalist as the main antagonist.

As the above tweet points out, it does appear some editing was done to change flags from saffron, the color of the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to red to represent the communist party. Netflix nor Universal have commented on this potential political maneuvering directly but it very much seems to be at the heart of the whole matter.

Be that as it may, Patel literally suffered through broken bones and unimaginable difficulties to get this movie made. It deserved better than a dusty shelf could offer, and it's finally going to make its way out into the world thanks to Universal and Jordan Peele.

"Monkey Man" hits theaters on April 5, 2024. You can read the film's official synopsis below.

Inspired by the legend of Hanuman, an icon embodying strength and courage, "Monkey Man" stars Patel as Kid, an anonymous young man who ekes out a meager living in an underground fight club where, night after night, wearing a gorilla mask, he is beaten bloody by more popular fighters for cash. After years of suppressed rage, Kid discovers a way to infiltrate the enclave of the city's sinister elite. As his childhood trauma boils over, his mysteriously scarred hands unleash an explosive campaign of retribution to settle the score with the men who took everything from him.