Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” opened to a less-than-expected opening weekend. The visually stunning thriller was released in 783 U.S. theaters on June 26 and made a total of $589,014. Its per-screen average was $752, which by industry standards is considered a flop. According to The Numbers, “The Neon Demon” has made a total of $1,321,725 worldwide.
Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry wrote an article on The Talkhouse titled, “How ‘The Neon Demon’s’ ‘Failure’ Reveals a Major Problem in Indie Film,” in which he gave his thoughts on Refn’s “masterpiece” and blames the film’s distribution method for its “failure.”
The film was released a month after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and after it was heavily marketed, failed to win big at the box office. Looking at the picture’s opening numbers, Perry pointed out that it was slowly being removed from theaters.
“Another week into the film’s release, it crossed the million-dollar line. But in that second week, it lost 598 theaters,” he wrote. “For week one, I had two options of theaters near me in Brooklyn, each playing the film four or five times a day. By weekend two, I had just one option, a theater where ‘The Neon Demon’ had already been reduced to a single showtime, the latest of the day.”
Admiring the filmmaker’s work, he studied the elements of how a film like ‘The Neon Demon’ gets made and released, “Foreign financing (a given for the Copenhagen-born Refn), major Hollywood stars, support from the obscenely wealthy Amazon – I wondered to what extent any of these parties involved care about the box office,” he questioned.
“With a fancy Cannes red carpet premiere and the eventuality of splashing the film across the main page of Amazon when its streaming time comes, why would anybody care what a box-office flop it was? And also, why on earth would anybody think this film needed to be on 800 screens in the first place?” he added.
“Perhaps the thinking here is to copy the callous dump-and-grab studio model of quickly throwing product out there before anybody can point out how little audience support it is likely to amass and then move on as quickly as possible,” he continued. “Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive,’ a reasonable point of comparison, never played on more than 250 screens and, I was shocked and amazed to discover, grossed over seven million dollars while playing in theaters from October 2001 through May 2002. There is a sensitivity to the handling of such cinema that, like nearly everything else about the ongoing disastrous spectacle that is independent film distribution, is a lost art.”
While it’s expected that “The Neon Demon” will get more eyeballs when it’s available to stream on Amazon, Perry thinks it’s a “tragic irony” that it will get mixed-in with the streaming site’s other “low-key, relatable sitcoms and dramas.”
“I don’t want to live in a world where a movie making a million dollars in two weeks is considered a humiliating failure,” he expressed. “But I really don’t want to live in one where such demarcations will tarnish that film forever and prevent people from wanting to discover it later on.”