‘Fabelmans,’ ‘Banshees,’ ‘Bones and All’ Pull the Ripcord and Hit PVOD December 13

Struggling box office and the promise of PVOD returns mean awards contenders can't wait for Christmas before they abandon theatrical exclusivity.
Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman in The Fabelmans, co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.
"The Fabelmans"
Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal

Multiple sources confirm that PVOD platforms will debut two top awards contenders — “The Fabelmans” (Universal) and “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight) — on December 13. “Bones and All” (United Artists), an even more-recent release, will also join them on that date.

For “Banshees,” the date comes 53 days after its initial appearance. But for “Fabelmans,” it will be only 32 days after the Steven Spielberg drama went into a theatrical platform release, and 23 days after the start of its wider release. The “Bones” VOD date comes 25 days after platform, 18 days after wide.

Bottom line: No longer is the promise of a Christmas-playtime boost enough. And waiting until the even-bigger boost of Oscar nominations (this year, January 24) seems impossible.

Fellow contenders “TÁR” (Focus) and “Till” (United Artists) along with “Armageddon Time” (Focus) and “Triangle of Sadness” (Neon) are also among October specialized releases that already have home viewing options. However, the early PVOD appearance of “Fabelmans” and “Banshees,” rather than playing through the once-lucrative holiday season, is a sign of a radically changed world for these films.

In comparison to pre-COVID times, grosses for specialized films fare much worse than wide-release studio titles. The PVOD placement is a disappointment in this make-or-break period; for these films, the fall and holidays are what summer is for studios. It looks even worse after this summer’s very strong performance of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24) which, with a $70 million domestic take and four months of theatrical exclusivity, topped even 2020 Best Picture winner “Parasite.”

Assuming audience appeal for these films resembles that of previous years’ releases, it appears that the core 40-and-older movie audience has fallen sharply. The films also face accelerated playoff with fewer platform and limited runs, earlier wide play, showing at far more theaters followed by rapid home presence. All of that take a toll on the urgency to see in theaters.

Even after two awards seasons where top nominees either had limited to no theatrical play (or, in most cases, early home viewing), this still feels odd. More than anything, it emphasizes that PVOD revenue is critical (roughly $14 of each transaction goes to the distributor). It’s hell on theatrical windows, but it’s essential to ensure financing of similar films in the future.

Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
“The Banshees of Inisherin”Jonathan Hession/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The VOD releases are still timed eight days after Screen Actors Guild nominations, the day after Golden Globes announce their noms, and after the New York and Los Angeles groups choose their winners.

“Banshees” has grossed less than $8 million, with only $342,000 over the three-day Thanksgiving weekend. “Fabelmans” went modestly wide (638 theaters) last Wednesday, with an unimpressive $2.7 million for the three days and little sign of daily improvement. Despite having more than four times the theaters than Spielberg’s film, “Bones and All” grossed the same amount.

For “Fabelmans,” it will open in most of the world next year. Digital showing risks piracy, so consider this a sign that what might be lost is made up by the potential bounty of PVOD revenue. The studio spent about $40 million on production, plus marketing; it’s still a long way from breakeven.

All of this has major implications for core specialized theaters, but none of it happens in a vacuum. It only reemphasizes the fragility of this market.

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