The Labor Day weekend is traditionally a spot where movie studios will re-release some of their projects from earlier in the year in an attempt to make them shine a little more and earn extra money in the process. However, 2019 seems to have seen the practice taking a little more real estate at the theaters, as we saw Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home both put back into circulation, with positive results to boot.
With the former example meant to break the all-time highest worldwide grossing record and the latter feeling more like a traditional re-print, it feels like a good time to start talking about why re-release are both good and bad. What started as a tradition now has the potential to be weaponized into something much more commonplace; so with that comes great power yet great responsibility.
As we move forward, we've removed repertory/"special event" re-releases, such as anniversaries and memory refreshers, out of consideration. Those examples operate on a smaller, and dare we say more purpose-driven scope. This discussion is all about the here and now, with movies that are brought back not too long after their initial runs have concluded. We’ll be moving back and forth between the pros and cons of the issue, starting with the best positive point a theatrical re-release could have.
Good: Underseen Films Have A New Chance To Shine
During the summer, there were a bunch of smaller films that tried to compete with the larger box office picture. For every Avengers: Endgame and Godzilla: King of the Monsters that landed in a huge number of theaters, there was a Booksmart or a Child’s Play that came and went with little-to-moderate buzz, at least as far as box office performance was concerned. So naturally, a movie like Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart or even the Mindy Kaling/Emma Thompson comedy Late Night would be a perfect fit for the Labor Day weekend slot.
While studios are reticent to release new products in that slot, the buzz behind both of those movies is enough to inspire another whack at the piñata; especially when a passionate fan base builds around a film that didn’t have that good of a shake the first time. And in the case of Ari Aster’s Midsommar, that re-release came with the added excitement of a Director’s Cut being shown to the public.
Bad: Studios Are Encouraged To Try And Pad The Grosses Of Their Blockbusters
If you’re putting a movie back into theatrical circulation because it’s a promising film that just happened to underperform, that’s a pretty good reason to take that second bite at the apple. However, a pretty bad reason is something that we saw make history in the year of 2019: the good old fashioned cash grab. We’ve seen it happen in the past with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Avatar and now Avengers: Endgame, as the record for the highest grossing film ever has been one that’s rarely changed, but often sought after.
Marvel Studios’ big Infinity Saga capstone was one of the most recent examples of this strategy, and it paid off with Endgame becoming the largest box office hit ever. Seeing as this was achieved only by the graces of a theatrical re-release, this sort of thing looks like it’s only going to become more ever present.
Good: Awards Hopefuls Could Get A Head Start On Campaigning
Theatrical distribution models continue to change and evolve as time marches on, which sees movies that may look primed for one traditional release frame or another being moved into off-season slots. So sometimes a movie that could stir up a lot of prestige attention, like Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle’s high concept comedy Yesterday, will be released in a summer release slot and make a good amount of money and buzz, but there'll be concern about its chances at competing for awards at the end of the year.
Which means that if Universal really wanted to, it could have put Yesterday into more theaters this past weekend and made a huge deal about how the film should be considered for end of year honors. Though that’s even a strategy that films released in the traditional later year timeframes tend to employ, as once big ticket nominations drop for something like the Academy Awards, it triggers a film like Get Out or American Sniper to put itself back into theaters. The awards bump is a nice way of reminding folks that your movie does exist, and it’s pretty qualified for the honor you’re potentially going to bestow upon it.
Bad: Home Video Style Double Dips Could Become A New Tradition
Winding back to the negative side, we come to a problem that might spring forth from the most recent theatrical re-release we’ve seen on the market. As Spider-Man: Far From Home boosted its box office standings with four minutes of additional footage, a mere four minutes was all it took for audiences to sink even more cash into a film they’ve probably seen on multiple occasions.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, let’s not forget that Avengers: Endgame threw a bunch of odds and ends into its re-release bid for the highest grossing film ever. So thanks to a widely criticized deleted/unfinished scene with The Hulk and a quick tribute to Stan Lee, the throne of overall champion was won for Marvel Studios. In both of those instances, this could be considered a win, which is odd considering how Ari Aster’s Midsommar dropped a new director’s cut with at least 20 minutes of footage, and it could barely be found in the theaters or in the news from this past weekend.
The long and the short of it is while theatrical re-releases do have a place in Hollywood’s grand scheme, there’s a potential for abuse that could turn the entire exercise into a cynical marketing ploy. On the one hand, some will see the practice as a chance to milk a summer blockbuster that feels ripe for some record making goosing. Contrary to that belief, there will be those that feel their indie darling that didn’t get enough love may have a better chance in a spot on the calendar that feels like the doldrums.
Between those two prospects probably lies the promised land. A place where Avengers: Endgame had scenes reinstated that showed Tony Stark saying goodbye to his daughter, or maybe allowed Quentin Tarantino to show a much longer cut of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood for fans who are already salivating for more.
We’ll see how the theatrical re-release is treated in the future, and all we can do now is keep a watchful eye open in hopes that those who look to take advantage of its allure will do so carefully.
If you’re still curious about that Spider-Man: Far From Home extended cut, it looks like it’s still in theaters at this time. Though you shouldn’t wait too much longer to see it, as the digital release of the film is slated for September 17th, with the 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD versions following on October 1st.