The first three Rebuild of Evangelion films were licensed by Funimation in the United States, and all received a limited theatrical release. It came as a surprise that Evangelion:3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time, the final film of the Rebuild series and the alleged conclusion of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise as a whole, would be released worldwide outside Japan on Amazon Prime Video. At the moment, this means the movie will be bypassing theaters entirely outside Japan.
No single definitive reason has been given as to why Evangelion:3.0+1.01 is going the direct-to-streaming route, though some informed guesses can be made. While it's great the new movie is being released globally faster than it took the previous Rebuild movies to get licensed, it's nonetheless disappointing that international fans won't get to enjoy the film together on the big screen.
Possible Explanations for the Direct-to-Streaming Release
The simplest and best possible explanation for skipping a theatrical rollout in favor of a global streaming release is that it allows everyone in the world outside Japan to see the movie at the same time without having to worry about the state of theaters internationally during a pandemic. Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno basically said as such in Amazon's official press release, stating, "We were looking for the best way to offer the movie to fans overseas as early as possible in a challenging situation with movie theatres during COVID-19, and are happy to have found Prime Video as a partner to stream it globally. We highly recommend watching it on a big TV screen for the best viewing experience."
Licensing not just 3.0+1.01 but the entire Rebuild of Evangelion series also gives Amazon Prime its first anime exclusive since the underwhelming Pet in Winter 2020. Anime has been big business for streaming services, but Amazon has never really figured out how to market it. The company made a huge mistake in 2017 by placing all of its anime simulcasts under an extra subscription called Anime Strike. Even when Strike disappeared a year later, Amazon did a poor job promoting and supporting its anime licenses. Evangelion is such a large-scale title that it basically sells itself, so this streaming premiere guarantees anime fans will be spending some time streaming on Prime.
Why Amazon Should Still Play Evangelion in Theaters
While Evangelion:3.0+1.01's global streaming release is overall a good thing, Amazon would still be wise to offer at least a limited theatrical rollout as well. Amazon Studios still releases many of its films in theaters. Sound of Metal and One Night in Miami got theatrical releases even during the height of the pandemic, and Annette will be in theaters this summer.
The Evangelion films were meant to be seen on the big screen. There's a reason Anno suggests people find a large TV to stream them on. They're visually spectacular productions with all the action of the best blockbusters mixed with the gripping emotional content of the best prestige dramas. 3.0+1.01 was even released on IMAX screens in Japan -- can you imagine how cool it would be to see EVA battles in IMAX? The fact this is the long-anticipated final film in the franchise only makes this more necessary.
Anime has grown far more mainstream since Evangelion:3.0 was released in American theaters in 2014. Anime Fathom Events are now a regular occurrence and the Demon Slayer film managed to top the box office. Evangelion itself has risen in mainstream popularity in light of the original series' release on Netflix, so stateside interest in 3.0+1.01 is higher than ever. At the very least, Amazon should allow public screenings of the film at anime fan gatherings like Otakon, if not a full-blown theatrical push.
Directed by Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Katsuichi Nakayama and Mahiro Maeda, Evangelion:3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time will be released on Amazon Prime Video August 13.