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Over the weekend, audience members hoping to catch up on the buzzworthy Oscar contenders like Birdman, Whiplash or St. Vincent might have been disappointed to look up at the board at their local multiplex and see Dracula Untold, The Best of Me or The Judge. Not exactly the titles that are setting the film industry on fire.
Even worse, if you went home and took to social media, you might be wondering why critics and crowds in New York or Los Angeles are gushing over these limited releases, and yet, you haven’t even had a chance to see them. It’s a growing problem, and one that we discuss in this week’s Monday Movie Memo.
Hollywood is always trying to figure out the best time to release an Oscar hopeful. But after a film has tested the waters of the film festival circuit, what is the point of holding it back from an interested audience? Take Birdman, as a prime example. The film has been generating raves since playing the Venice and Telluride film festivals in September. People are DYING to see it. Yet this weekend, it only opened in four theaters, according to Box Office Mojo. Four! Yes, theaters are trying to find space for larger films like Fury and Gone Girl. But is On Demand not an option? Could Birdman be streamed by people who don’t live in NY or LA?
I’ll be lucky enough to attend the Savannah Film Festival in the next few days, and that regional fest will bring titles like Foxcatcher, Whiplash and The Imitation Game to a Southern crowd. Savannah joins the likes of the Hamptons Film Festival and the upcoming AFI Film Fest that continue to bring heralded titles to theaters that aren’t making enough space for the noteworthy Oscar contenders.
I’m not sure what the solution is. This is an ongoing problem every year, where movies that generate a ton of heat on the film festival circuit find it hard to choose the right distribution window – either missing the boat entirely (like Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children) or entering a marketplace that’s now too crowded to support a glut of new films. Appealing to media in major movie markets is idea. But if these films really are going to take off, they need to play in front of a much larger – and more important – base: Ticket-buying audience members.