Have you ever stopped to consider why a studio would release a movie straight to DVD? We did and decided to take a deep dive and investigate movies released in 2010. By referencing our go-to site The-Numbers.com, we looked for movies that were categorized as DVD-premiere for our starting point. An important note that DVD sales totals are sketchy and many are not reported. So while in previous articles we examined box office sales, we won’t be able to provide that same analysis. So let’s see what statistics we were able to find and see where we end up…
In 2010, 129 movies were released straight to DVD and had no theatrical release. Animated movies totaled 24 or counted for 18% of these movies. A sizeable number considering Disney’s 4 movies were the top sales of all the animated features. Disney’s Tinkerbell and Christmas Paws made a combined $78 mil. In fact, Disney first pioneered the concept of animated sequels with Aladdin’s Return of Jafar in 1994. Universal Studios had 2 big hits based on the Barbie doll and Warner Bros had 2 movies with Scooby-Doo. It’s shocking that Barbie made $31 million off 2 movies in 2010. Other animated movies were either based on toys, comic books, or video games in the case of Halo Legends.
In scouring the rest of the movies, 62 or 48% carried an R-rating, This is significant as many of these movies fell into horror genre and were classified as ‘graphic’. Three movies that had significant star power begged for further investigation: Unthinkable with Samuel L Jackson, Hurricane Season with Forrest Whitaker and Tenderness with Russell Crowe.
IFC’s recent movie article articulates an interesting perspective on why movies go straight to DVD
“… generally meant they posed too much of a marketing challenge. As in, the films were either too odd, too original, too archival, too subtle, too something”.
So what went wrong with the three movies above?
Unthinkable has a terrorist plot with the terrorist being a Muslim and also touches on torture, maybe a bit too controversial? Very likely and here’s another example. In 2002, The Sum of All Fears, a Tom Clancy novel was adapted into a film starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman. However, in the book the terrorist is from the Middle East. The screenplay was retooled and the terrorist became a rogue European with Russian ties. Russia is still an acceptable ‘bad guy’. Torture for investigation has been a hot topic. Recall the polarizing aspects of ‘waterboarding’. Although the average critic score was a 7, it’s apparent the studio thought it was too controversial and opted to pass on a theatrical release.
Tenderness with Russell Crowe was generally reviewed with a 5/10 stars from most critics. It’s adapted from the novel with the same name. However the main character is a teen murderer. Might this be too much of a marketing challenge?
Hurricane Season with Forrest Whitaker also centers on a catastrophic event, Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. One critic’s review summarized it as “clinging to the traumatizing image of Hurricane Katrina” . It was also stated that it did not ‘test well’ . Therefore, Weinstein made the decision to release it straight to DVD . Which brought me to another widely discussed movie Remember Me which was theatrically released with very little marketing support. The movie ending is what made it a challenge, Sept 11th.
So it seems that there are several factors in play when producers are trying to decide to release a film. They have ‘test screenings’, critic’s reviews, and the ultimate decision of ‘how to market the film’. If the topic is generally polarizing to many consumers they may steer clear of the box office. If your audience is generally the older market segment, you basically run the risk of cutting box office returns in half. Factor in the costs of a marketing campaign and there may be no hope of recouping the original investment. So from a business perspective, if you already perceive a loss why would you throw more money into a marketing campaign?
1 IFC’s links are copyright protected. Source taken from article “The 10 Best Straight-to-DVD Movies of 2010”.