Luring audiences back to theatres continues to be elusive for independent film distributors, as older moviegoers have been slow to return to art house theatres after the pandemic. This is forcing a change in long-held distribution strategies, all but eliminating the slowly expanding rollout that is fueled by positive reviews and word-of-mouth marketing.
Prior to the pandemic, a tried-and-true approach for distributing independent films for adult audiences was to start with an opening at a handful of theatres in major media markets, and hope that a positive response from critics and audiences would create a buzz that would create wider interest nationally. Only after many weeks of expanding to new theatres and markets would the film achieve its ultimate market potential. Distributors such as A24, Fox Searchlight, Neon, Focus Features, and others were well-known for deploying this platform release strategy.
However, only a handful of indie titles since the beginning of the pandemic have seen success with platform releases, the most notable being EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCE. This year, even those titles with awards potential and early success in N.Y. and L.A. theatres have struggled to sell tickets after expanding to 100’s of locations or more.
TAR is one of this season’s top awards contenders, and its distributor Focus Features opened it in theatres in early October with a weekend average of $40,000 per location, a promising figure in the post-pandemic theatrical market. However, the film stumbled after it expanded to play in more than 1,000 theaters, ending its run within a few weeks with a total box office of only $4.5 million.
In contrast, Fox Searchlight opened THE MENU this weekend at more than 3,100 theatres, in an attempt to capitalize immediately on attention from the general public. At this point, THE MENU appears to be on track to do well in its debut, having grossed $9M in its first three days, well in advance of other A24 and Focus Feature releases from 2022.