Why Films Open in Limited Release?

1 Feb

Second article in our 5 weeks series on Campaigning for an Oscar!

LIH Welcomes Guest Author-Jess

With the Oscars just around the corner, the 26th of February couldn’t come any faster for those anticipating the show. But besides the excitement on what certain actresses are wearing and winner for Best Picture, there are also those watching the show to see what new and exciting movies are soon to be coming out this year.

A lot of films nominated have not even made it to the majority of theaters domestically. These films are only being shown in “limited release” in select cities, which lets face it, most of us never live near. Talk about frustration you see a preview in the theatre only to find out that movie is not going to be anywhere near you for at least a few months or oddly around the time the Oscar buzz starts. You may start to wonder why you see more and more commercials for the nominated movies and question why they haven’t stopped by your theatre.

With these types of films the release date came and went because it was a lesser known film. These less known films are first released in big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Eventually they are released to a wider audience, domestically and then open worldwide. But why such a long wait? It is actually part of the marketing technique. Films studios can save a lot of advertising money by limiting the release of the film. By simply opening a film to only select cities, critics of the said cities will jump on that opportunity to comment. Their reviews build hype for the film which then gives the studio the chance to release the film gradually to more and more theaters. By the time the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations come out, much of the hype has been the advertising.

Jeremy Devine, vice president of marketing for Rave motion pictures talks to the Journal Star, in an interview describing films have a grace period to get out and advertise and build hype,

  •  “There’s a real sound economics to companies wanting to get these films into individual markets at a place and a time when they have the highest potential to flourish.  If (the studio) can create more demand, then when they finally do issue the film in that market, it will do much better. And I can tell you, the landscape is absolutely littered with films that were rushed into the marketplace and didn’t have a chance to see the light of day because they simply got swamped by all the other wider and more commercial films…”[1]

 The movie studios themselves see the Oscars not only as a prestigious gain but also a great gain for more business and future films. By advertising and gaining a great amount of points from critics good or bad, the studios see that by the time the Oscars come around the demand for the movies will be great. However, it’s also a hit-or-miss business. Most of the time Studios will spend up to $5 million or more just promoting these films and pushing for Academy Award votes.  They do this in hope for a bigger box office payoff.

Says David Davis, an entertainment industry analyst for the investment bank Houlihan, Lokey, Howard and Zukin,

  •  “It’s an expensive proposition, and if you don’t win the best picture, that can hurt,” “But you would be remiss not to try to get that win.

Sometimes it pays off long term for the studios, particularly when that studio has seen a lot of wins with the movies their grossly marketing.  Davis continues,

  • Miramax having that run of winners in the mid-1990s with The Piano and The English Patient had a big impact,” [2]

This year’s nominated list includes:

  • The Descendants
  • The Artist
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • War Horse
  • Tree of life
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • Moneyball
  • Midnight in Paris

Studios have already started the advertising and hype for them just in time for the Oscars. Still only a few on that list are even heard of by most of the country. Most of those movies are not even out in local theaters. Once the Oscars are over the films will of course be out for everyone to enjoy, thus bringing more hype for the movies and more money for the studios.

In a way some of the advanced advertising before the Oscars is a good thing, especially for small independent movies like (Black Swan). The Oscar buzz and marketing helps bring in a bigger audience for the film.

Please join us for a discussion Thursday 2/2/12@7pmE/12UTC


 [1] http://blogs.pjstar.com/thebuzz/2011/12/as-usual-peoria-waiting-for-oscar-worthy-films/

[2] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=88436&page=1

25 Responses to “Why Films Open in Limited Release?”

  1. littlebells February 1, 2012 at 10:20 AM #

    Great job Jess!

  2. Comic Relief February 1, 2012 at 11:33 AM #


    Nice to finally meet you (sort of); maybe we’ll resolve this later.

    Being someone who at one time lived in or near by a lot of the major U.S. cities, yes I have wondered what this limited release thing is all about. “Why can’t I see that movie????!!!!” I want to see “Shame” but the closed its come is 100 miles from my home.

    The information you provided was very useful in understanding what is at stake. Because of pageants like the Golden Globes, so many of us, for good reason think many of these Hollywood processes are motivated by gratuitous narcissism but frequently, as you demonstrate, they are not. More often money is the driving force for many decisions; even when visibility is withheld.

    Thanks a lot Jess. I can’t wait for the discussion.

  3. Open Book February 1, 2012 at 12:17 PM #

    Great job and Welcome Jess!

    I can’t wait to discuss this topic. Very informative.

  4. Parisienne February 1, 2012 at 5:37 PM #

    Hi Jess! Great Job!

    When a film opens in limited release in Chicago, L.A. or NY? How many theaters carry the film? In your opinion, does opening a film in limited release help or hurt the studio? How can a film hurt the studio if it doesn’t win Best Picture? (maybe I read that wrong)

  5. Jess February 1, 2012 at 11:51 PM #

    Hey thanks guys. *Waves* And hello!!

    I actually learned alot while doing this article. I also didn’t know why certain movies went to select cities. And just automatically came through during the award season. And most of the movies that were nominated I had never heard of either.

    But Paris, during my research information said that they only open to a few theaters in the select areas. Probably the main ones in that city that everyone mostly goes to. And imo yes it irks me because I don’t get certain movies. But I sort of can see why the Studios do wait it out for a bit. I mean if the movies has bad reviews and still not big BO sales, then what is the point of releasing it to the other cities? However they seem to wait for Oscar season when the movies will revamp again and people will become more interested. It really seems like a hassle but pays off in the end maybe? LOL

    • Open Book February 2, 2012 at 6:59 PM #

      Hi Jess!

      Welcome new and returning visitors. Please feel free to jump in anytime with a question or comment.

  6. Comic Relief February 2, 2012 at 6:59 PM #


    I know your intention was to discuss the impact of the Oscars on limited release films yet Jess when is limited release ever a great idea?

    In general I think most think wide release is always positive. I seem to have heard that Twilight Eclipse significantly over booked and lost a ton of money at the box office. The movie wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

  7. Comic Relief February 2, 2012 at 7:29 PM #


    In your opinon, what can fans and audience members gain from watching this arena of sales concern?

    • Comic Relief February 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM #

      …or Oscar Competition?

    • Open Book February 2, 2012 at 7:37 PM #

      Good Q-

      Honestly, I think by being more aware of some of the ways Hollywood markets to consumers allows them greater ability to make better choices at the theater. Meaning instead of choosing a film impulsively then wonder why every other film has a vampire? Consumers can hold out for better if they know “The Artist” will eventually make it to their theater.

      What I like what Jess has done here is to show some of the strategy behind limited release films.It’s not always because a studio does not think a film will have broad appeal. Sometimes it’s because they want to build up momentum.

      • Comic Relief February 2, 2012 at 7:43 PM #

        Since we’re still waiting for our resident expert, can you name some films that have benefitted from this strategy?

        • Open Book February 2, 2012 at 7:54 PM #


          I will come back later and answer your Q.

          Good Q though.

  8. Open Book February 2, 2012 at 7:50 PM #


    I have to leave now. However I have a question for everyone.

    When u here a film will open in limited release do u think it makes the film look unappealing? Meaning does a limited release make u want to run out and support it or stay away?

  9. Open Book February 2, 2012 at 7:53 PM #


    If u happen to pop in. We are all thinking of u and miss u.

  10. Comic Relief February 2, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

    Unfortuantely I tend to doubt the film, yet Jess’s article makes me think I might want to do other wise.

    I have to leave too, yet I will come back later to check for any new responses.

  11. ozzie20 February 2, 2012 at 8:27 PM #

    Hi all!

    Jess, this was a brilliant first article! I had always wanted to know more about limited releases and your article has explained alot of things to me! 🙂

  12. Jess February 3, 2012 at 3:59 AM #

    I am soo sorry I am late! Thanks guys!
    to what you said OB I totally agree. I think the studios uses this as a strategy. To get peoples attention really. I mean I admit I get rather annoyed when certain movies don’t come out right away but now that I have researched this, I see why they do this and it makes sense.
    Usually though when I hear a movie is coming out in limited release I don’t pay much attention. However when I do watch the Oscars or GG and see the movies actually being talked about more and find out exactly more about them I then want to see them right away. But this year was actually different. Most of the movies that are nominated for an award this year are already out near me. Strange because they usually are never out until after the show. Maybe the studios decided to release them in other parts of the country this year. Not just the limited usual places. Just to see how that works out?

    • Open Book February 3, 2012 at 10:07 PM #

      Hi Jess,

      What were some of the films in limited release that opened near u?

  13. Sony February 3, 2012 at 1:24 PM #

    Thank you for this great article, Jess! I didn’t expect that it would again boil down to following the money trail – as usual in HW…When I hear that a movie will get only limited release I’m inclined to doubt it (sorry, CR, I had to quote you here :-)), maybe because of the topic that doesn’t interest me, maybe due to a director that I don’t like or because of the actors involved. This may sound prejudiced but that’s my first reaction.

    • Comic Relief February 3, 2012 at 4:28 PM #

      Copy away Sony,… it’s the sincerest form of flattery; or that’s what I hear.

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