This week, Neil Calloway argues that a poor opening weekend isn’t a sign of a failure for The Colony…
This week brought the news that The Colony, the new film starring former Hogwarts alumna Emma Watson, made just £47 on its opening weekend at the British box office. I’ve spent more on a night out, with little to show for it except a crippling hangover and an unshakeable sense of self loathing (more self loathing than my usual everyday self loathing). By any measure, that’s a disappointing return, even for a film that was only shown on three screens. When less than ten people go to see your movie, it’s not done well. It beat – if getting a lower opening weekend constitutes beating – the Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins starring Misconduct from earlier this year, which despite an extensive marketing campaign, made a piffling £97 on its opening weekend. When two Oscar winners can’t guarantee your film a hundred quid at the box office, you know something is up.
The problem The Colony faced is that Emma Watson isn’t a huge draw; yes she starred in the Harry Potter films but pretty much any young actress could have appeared in them and they would have been a success. A small coterie of hardcore Watsonites and Hermionists aside, how many people are interested in seeing a film about the 1973 Chilean coup and a cult? Actually, that makes it sound quite good, despite the mixed reviews.
Of course, the release strategy for The Colony (and Misconduct) involved a simultaneous on demand and limited cinema release. Increasingly, films are getting shown in a small number of cinemas at the same time they are released online. The small cinema release allows it to be reviewed inn the national press and saves the film from the ignominy of a straight to DVD release. Ironically, the publicity the film received for its failure to set the box office alight at the weekend will have garnered more interest in it; you can bet it did well on streaming services this week.
You will see more of this; small films getting small cinema releases, and enjoying the long tail of Amazon and Netflix and other home video services, and big films getting big releases in cinemas. If a distributor wants to “crunch” the releases and release a movie for on demand viewing at the same time as people can see it on the big screen, they won’t even be allowed to show it in major cinema chain, as they demand exclusivity for a few months to protect their own margins. It could be good for smaller films, now they are freed from competing for cinema screen time with blockbusters, but it could also be bad; have you ever heard of a music artist who likes Spotify? A film producer who likes the movie equivalent will be the same; a very rare breed indeed.
The Colony wasn’t a failure; it wasn’t meant to be a cinema success, and its small release on the big screen was part of its marketing strategy; small films will look increasingly to this model and make more money than they would if they went down the expensive wide cinema release for their movies.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.
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