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‘Onward’ Leads VOD Charts, but So Far It’s the Cheaper Rentals That Rule

On the first weekend of our brave no-box-office world, we look at the VOD charts and see that audiences are slow to pay full price.

"Onward"

“Onward”

Disney/Pixar

It was 125 years ago today — March 22, 1895 — when the Lumiere Brothers showed their first short film to an audience of 10 people in Lyon, France: “Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory.” The anniversary falls on a date when the American public has almost no access to movie theaters — but it’s possible that more people will watch recently released movies today than ever, at home.

Here is what we know about the state of movie viewing in the early days of sheltering in place: A handful of theaters, mostly drive-ins, remain open at this writing. We have initial results from the first week of current films offered as premium VOD. And, we have the optimistic news that in China, where theaters closed more than two months ago, have begun to reopen.

What does this leave us for box-office reporting? Sources tell IndieWire that it appears under 200 theaters remain open, with drive-ins the only ones to show grosses of any size. There’s a few indoor theaters open — mostly single-owner independents in states that have been slower to impose restrictions such as Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and South Dakota. Meanwhile, the extraordinary transition to first-run VOD moves toward the norm.

"The Invisible Man"

“The Invisible Man”

Universal

It has only been six days since Universal announced that three current films — “The Invisible Man,” “Emma” from Focus, and “The Hunt” — would be available for $19.99 at home on March 20, with DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls World Tour” on April 10. Disney then jumped in with Pixar’s “Onward” at the same cost (and raised the ante by putting it on Disney+ in two weeks, on April 3). Nearly all other recent titles will also do the same by the end of the month.

We don’t have the tools to make detailed assessments of VOD performance. However, we do have data of value. We looked at the charts made available Sunday morning from three major VOD providers: iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Spectrum Cable, as well as Netflix’s own chart (which includes all programming, not just feature films). They all have top 10 lists (and further rankings, except Netflix).

Several major caveats: All but Spectrum seem to change daily, so take this as a snapshot. None provide actual numbers of rentals. And since they reflect all releases, irrespective of price, it’s not a clear reflection of revenue.

“Jumanji: The Next Level“

Here is a list of feature film titles and their positions on iTunes, Amazon, and Spectrum. There are 15 titles, widely divergent placement.

iTunes

  1. Onward (Disney)
  2. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)
  4. Contagion (Warner Bros.)
  5. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  6. Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox)
  7. Bombshell (Lionsgate)
  8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony)
  9. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)
  10. 1917 (Universal)

Amazon

  1. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  2. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  3. Bombshell (Lionsgate)
  4. Midway (Lionsgate)
  5. Uncut Gems (A24)
  6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)
  7. The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox)
  8. Onward (Disney)
  9. Frozen II (Disney)
  10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony)

Spectrum

  1. Bombshell (Lionsgate)
  2. Frozen II (Disney)
  3. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  4. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  5. Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox)
  6. Uncut Gems (A24)
  7. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)
  8. Midway (Lionsgate)
  9. Dark Waters (Focus)
  10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony)

Netflix

  1. Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker  (limited series)
  2. All American (episodic series)
  3. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (limited series)
  4. Spenser Confidential (feature film)
  5. Love Is Blind (episodic series)
  6. 2012 (feature film)
  7. Pandemic (episodic series)
  8. 100 Humans. Life’s Questions. Answered (episodic series)
  9. Boss Baby: Back in Business (episodic series)
  10. On My Block (episodic series)

Some preliminary thoughts:

“Onward” is the only premium VOD title to make a significant showing. As well it should be; it was the #1 film the past two weekends and at $19.99, it’s a bargain if you have even one child in the household. Universal’s three titles mean paying a premium for early viewing.

While iTunes has “Onward” as #1, the Universal titles don’t appear among the top 100 titles. At Amazon, among all rental offerings, “The Invisible Man” is #25, “Emma” is #42, and “The Hunt” is at #70. And on Spectrum, “Onward” is AWOL — but that’s likely because the company is slower to update its rankings.

Upcoming for premium VOD are “I Still Believe” (Lionsgate), “Bloodshot” (Sony), “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount), “The Way Back,” and “Birds of Prey” (both Warner Bros.). What the public chooses, and in what volume, may go a long way toward shaping how studios view the future.

Disney rules VOD, too. Six of the 15 titles listed are either Disney or Disney-owned Fox. That’s 40%, which sounds a lot like the box-office share. And two of them are premium VOD (“Onward” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”). And “Frozen II” made two of the lists, even though it can be viewed for free on Disney+. This might be one reason Universal leaped in so quickly. They lag behind some other studios (look at Lionsgate, with its three high-ranking titles!) and might not accrue as much immediate revenue at a time when they are getting none from theaters.

I still believe

“I Still Believe”

Family titles thrive. They offer more bang for the buck with multiple viewers, and appeal to parents who want/are desperate to occupy their children. However, there are only so many of these theatrical titles, and number of less expensive or free alternatives is vast. Don’t be surprised if “I Still Believe” ends up ahead of most or all of the others. Its faith-based appeal, PG rating (its subject relating to facing death not ideal for younger kids), and newness all should elevate it.

China has reported no grosses, and they’re sort of unnecessary: Currently, distributors are providing older titles free of film rental, ranging from local hits to international hits like “Green Book” and “Capernaum.” They want to get audiences back into theaters before rolling out the delayed titles, which represent choices intended for China’s top movie season. All eyes here will be on these results as a test for how things might work domestically.

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