Before the COVID pandemic, many independent studios used a platform releasing strategy as the best way to build interest in new releases over time and maximize their audience and profit. A platform release would debut in a handful of theatres in New York and Los Angeles, in hopes that they would generate high-per theatre grosses and draw praise from film critics in these media centers. This early success would be a springboard to expanding distribution across the country, increasing the box office each week from the expansion. Independent distributors have managed successful platform releases for acclaimed films such as A24’s UNCUT GEMS, Searchlight’s JOJO RABBIT, and Neon’s PARASITE, which was successful both commercially and with awards voters.
However, 2021 has seen many fewer platform releases. For example, Neon chose to release SPENCER on 11/5 to nearly 1,000 locations, rather than beginning in select theatres in NY and LA. While it generated $2.1M in its first three days, it has tailed off quickly since its opening weekend and expects to wind up earning $8M – $10M from its run in the Domestic market. Similarly, Focus Features went out with BELFAST on 11/12 at 600 screens, generating $1.8M in its first three days but with a significant drop thereafter. The logic of the all-up-front release strategy is that audiences in the post-COVID era have an even more limited attention span, and will not notice a movie that builds over time. On the other hand, A24 opened C’MON C’MON as a classic platform release, starting on 11/19 with five screens in NY and LA. As 2022 begins, studio execs will have results from both distribution models to consider when deciding how to go to market with a new slate of specialty films.