UPDATE: Radius/TWC has confirmed a 1,200 theater release for this Friday (March 27) as well as a delay in any Video on Demand availability until an unspecified date “later this year,” per their press statement.
This comes after a second week expansion to 32 theaters in ten markets last Friday that grossed $345,000, or a little under $11,000 per screen. It received decent or better response in most, and played well in both specialized and more commercial venues. These numbers, combined with exhibition likely wanting to reward Radius for dropping its VOD plans after outstanding initial grosses, certainly were more than enough to justify the expansion.
The weekend looks propitious for even an improvisational release for “It Follows,” with two new Friday releases (DreamWorks Animation’s “Home” and Kevin Hart/Will Ferrell comedy “Get Hard”) with target audiences very different from the smart horror flick’s young-adult, social media-oriented genre crowd, and most other recent releases on their last legs. Strong initial grosses and great critical response warrant giving theaters a chance to be the initial platform for what has become one of the most talked-about horror film in years.
Earlier: In Hollywood, money talks. Even when a distributor is invested in the Video on Demand paradigm.
Finally, Radius/TWC has opted to push out horror hit “It Follows” beyond the limited theater expansion already planned for this Friday. Exhibition sources report that late Wednesday (after ongoing debates within the company all week), Radius-TWC began to inform theaters that the initial VOD date, set for March 27, would be postponed. They’re going wider to a reported 1000 theaters next week..
Radius told exhibitors early Monday –after stunning weekend numbers–that they would go wide Friday, then backpedaled at day’s end and returned to the initial March 27 VOD date. The issue is launching costly marketing buys to support a wide theater break, as well as meeting established commitments to VOD cable providers.
The multiple-festival acclaimed horror film showed strong initial public interest when it opened to $160,000 in four New York/Los Angeles theaters, the best of any limited release since Christmas. Those are numbers that normally suggest potential for strong wider theatrical business, but came against the backdrop of initially anticipated VOD release after only two weeks.
Nearly 48 hours after the initial late flurry on Monday, Radius late Wednesday began contacting theaters with their latest plan. Fans were circulating a petition to delay VOD and release the film to many theaters nationwide.
Early Wednesday, Radius posted a listing of theaters opening this Friday: 29 new theaters on top of the initial four, nine new markets. Most of the theaters tend to play VOD current or early release films. Among top circuits, only AMC — which has uniquely among the majors shown VOD releases, but reportedly only on a “four wall” (distributor rents a theater) basis, Landmark (in Detroit–where the film was made–they have not previously played any Radius VOD films, including “Snowpiercer”) and Cinemark in Evanston, IL are included.
The roster of theaters suggests that as of Wednesday exhibition still assumed VOD on March 27 was the plan, with many top grossing locations not booked in most major markets because of individual policies. And the theaters included — most of which played “The Interview” successfully after getting unexpected dates with bigger grossing theaters passing — will preclude adding competitive major circuit bookings. (For example, AMC’s Lincoln Square Theater on Manhattan’s upper west side, one of the top grossing in the country, is excluded because the film is already at the much lower grossing nearby Film Society of Lincoln Center theater.)
In others words, this looks like an impromptu, made-up on the run booking policy rather than a carefully planned and strategized one (not as frantic as “The Interview”). The exact count of theaters anticipated for Mar. 27 is a work in progress. It’s safe to say that if Radius does widen to the 1,000, they’d be reassuring the major circuits that the VOD date was many weeks down the line.
Tom Quinn, co-president of Radius, refused to confirm Tuesday morning, which hinted that this was a shifting situation. The Weinstein Company is notorious for its ability to make quick, and often aggressive and radical shifts in booking plans–to the frustration of many theater owners. Whether this is accepted behavior with the various VOD platforms is unknown.
Clearly the movie is set to score big in theaters and Radius will easily recoup its marketing expenditures –but not planning for a wide break in the first place will cost them.
It also shows that, despite Radius having been set up as a mainly VOD-oriented company, Harvey Weinstein, almost certainly a decision-maker in all of this, may not be ready to give up on theaters. Radius however up to this point has had as its widest theatrical break 356 theaters, and none other more than 188, nor any film that has grossed over $5 million theatrically. Assuming this continues as a wider theatrical film, it is a victory for traditional releases and theaters, and a clear indication of how uncertain major players remain about what it the best way to handle a wide range of more specialized and/or genre non-studio films. A strong showing for this, despite all the confusion, would be a real boost for the theatrical model.