Have you seen “Greenland”? It seems like almost everyone has: Released December 18 as a Premium VOD title with no domestic theatrical play, the $35 million STX Films title starring Gerard Butler as a father trying to help his family survive planet-destroying comets has ranked at or near the top of the VOD charts ever since. With good reviews and word of mouth, it spent more than eight weeks at $19.99 and finally became the standard-price $5.99 on February 16 — which saw it rebound on the charts once more. Whether they track by rentals or revenue, all roads seem to lead to “Greenland.”
“Greenland” is not the only film to see this kind of long-term success. Universal’s “The Croods: A New Age” moved to PVOD after three weeks in theaters and has thrived ever since. However, that film also benefits from being part of an animated franchise in the content-hungry kids’ market. “Greenland,” which falls neatly into the disaster-movie genre, is that also rare and difficult property: the original screenplay.
Exhibition will spend this year in a state of flux as theaters reopen and studios determine which release patterns — theaters, home, both? — serve their movies best. The longevity of “Greenland” suggests another new path.
STX acquired “Greenland” in March 2019, prior to the start of production that summer. Modest budgets and familiar elements are part of the STX family crest, and this package fit the bill. It included Butler as producer and lead, reuniting with his “…Has Fallen” franchise director Ric Roman Waugh.
As with every other film last year, the pandemic forced STX to reconsider the “Greenland” domestic release date. Originally scheduled to open in theaters June 12, 2020, STX moved the date four times before announcing that it would debut as a PVOD title October 13. That date pushed once more before it landed on December 18.
Chart placements aside, VOD financials are difficult to assess. However, evidence suggests that STX has already net $60 million-$80 million on the film’s $35 million budget.
Through international partners, STX released “Greenland” overseas in late July and it grossed around $48 million. Based on standard deal terms, that likely netted over $20 million.
In October, HBO acquired the film for its pay-TV network and HBO Max streaming in the U.S. in a massive deal reportedly in the range of $20 million-$30 million. Amazon Prime has the title in the U.K., Australia, and Canada.
Finally, industry sources say “Greenland” has seen over 2 million rentals over its eight-week run as a $19.99 rental. Given a standard share of 80 percent, that would come to $32 million. Still to come are VOD results, DVD/BluRay sales, and longer-term library value.
As for marketing costs, PVOD titles track much lower than theatrical releases. Pre-COVID, a movie like “Greenland” could expect to spend about $30 million. As a PVOD release, a $10 million campaign is at the high end.
The 2019 STX theatrical release of “Hustlers” was likely more profitable with a $157 million worldwide gross on a $20 million budget, but the success of “Greenland” may be more impressive.
It sounds like a rote, FX-dominated disaster film, and its title is misleading; most of the film is set in continental North America. Butler is a credible lead, but does not guarantee that people will spend $19.99. As a PVOD title, it competed with a weekly barrage of new releases, many also with well-known leads like Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, and Mel Gibson and with lower price points. “Greenland” beat them all.
A key to the film’s success may be its holiday-adjacent release date that lent itself to more group viewing and, in turn, word of mouth. For a film about giant meteors destroying almost all life on Earth, “Greenland” is more of a character study. It isn’t an awards contender, but the reviews are on par with higher-profile titles like “Tenet” and “Wonder Woman 1984.” “Greenland” proved that, for the home-viewing public, an original mid-budget title can be valued at $19.99.
Lionsgate is following a similar strategy for “Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar” with Kristen Wiig, playing off its connection to “Bridesmaids,” but not every film can or should go this route. (“Barb & Star” is already showing signs of flagging less than two weeks after its release.) Still, the potential in this alternate route is not good news for theaters. Blockbusters are a life force, but less-flashy programmers are the workaday titles that ensure theaters can turn a profit.
“Soul” went directly to Disney+, Warner Bros. is opening titles day-and-date with HBO Max, and “Nomadland” is on Hulu. With the PVOD success of “Greenland,” we can add unassuming genre films to the list of exhibitors’ existential threats.