Ridley Scott, Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Napoleon’ Premieres Battle Footage

Napoleon,” Ridley Scott’s sweeping historical epic about the French military leader, debuted footage for the first time at CinemaCon. The film is a mixture of the new and old worlds, and not just in terms of its subject matter. It’s being produced by Apple Original Films, one of the new tech players to enter the movie business, and is being distributed in theaters by Sony, a traditional studio that used its presentation to talk up the movie.

“The film shouts big screen,” Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman teased.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Napoleon Bonaparte, the brilliant military strategist who conquered much of Europe only to see his empire crumble. But the film isn’t all about the battles that determined the course of history. It will also offer a more personal look at the visionary commander by dissecting his volatile relationship with his wife, Josephine, played by Vanessa Kirby. 

But marital discord wasn’t on offer in the footage shared at CinemaCon, which focused on a snowy conflict between the French and an opposing army (possibly the Cossacks?), who are lured into a trap with bloody consequences.

“Let them think they have the higher ground,” Napoleon tells his troops. Calvaries charge, cannons fire and Napoleon’s unlucky enemies are tricked into retreating onto sheer ice. It’s real cast-of-thousands stuff that must have cost a pretty penny. (It helps that Apple has a market cap that would leave Napoleon trembling.)

The film could be a major awards season player. Kirby was previously nominated for an Oscar for “Pieces of a Woman,” while Phoenix won the best actor prize for “Joker.” Plus, Scott knows his way around a historical epic, having previously directed the likes of “Gladiator,” “The Last Duel” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

“He can do things cinematically that few, if any, filmmakers half his age can do,” said Rothman, who noted that Scott has yet to win an Oscar. That could change, the studio chief suggested. This time, Scott “does it on a scale not seen in years,” Rothman said.

“Napoleon” will open in cinemas exclusively on Nov. 22 before streaming globally on Apple TV+ at an undetermined date. 

The film was made in conjunction with Scott Free Productions. Scott and Phoenix produced the movie alongside Kevin Walsh and Mark Huffam. Michael Pruss and Aidan Elliott served as executive producers. David Scarpa wrote the screenplay for “Napoleon.”

“Hold on to your tri-corner hats,” Rothman said, debuting a tagline that probably won’t make the final poster.

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