— Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs from In the Heat of the Night, 1967
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January 21, 2013
2012 Recap: Shifting Release Dates: A Non-Committal Industry?
— Posted by Kenny Miles
“There was never just one” was the tagline for the rebooted Jason Bourne series The Bourne Legacy. Unfortunately, this tagline also applied to the spy action thriller in another unintended way: its release date. The film was originally scheduled to release August 3, 2012 but was instead released August 10, 2012. One of the biggest unmentioned trends of 2012 was how studios would suddenly change release dates for their films, sometimes with only a few weeks notice which I think this happened all too often in 2012. The lesson learned by moviegoers was: don’t make plans too far out in advance to catch a movie. A release date is usually an established date in which a movie commits to be made available to the public and 2012 was the year where many movies changed course and opened on a different day as initially advertised! This usually only happens to a select few mainstream movies a year, and is known to occur to smaller indie films doing a “roll out” platform release. It just seemed like many more movies then usual decided to abandon their commitments to open on a set date.
The list of films that changed their 2012 release dates range across various genres and various studios and include notable films such as The Master, Quartet, Pitch Perfect, Life of Pi, Butter, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Red Lights, The Dictator, Hope Springs, Red Dawn (originally slated for 2011), Les Miserables, The Guilt Trip, Anna Karenina, This Means War, Act of Valor, and even Lincoln among many more. All of these films opened on dates that waren’t their original release dates or instead the studios made a last minute change to open the films in limited release followed by platform in the following weeks. The two studios which I found to be the most cautious, and perhaps non-committed with changing their release dates, were Universal and The Weinstein Company. There seemed to be a sort of strategy with the re-arranging in order for them to be cautious and tactful. I kept receiving emails from publicists informing me about the changes, and it became quite common to see these notices, making it noticeable that the trend of the shifting release date happened more frequently in 2012.
Ted was originally slated to open on July 13th but everyone wanted to avoid The Dark Knight Rises, during its planned crucial second weekend, so Universal decided to switch the release date of Ted June 25th. On June 25th Ted successfully opened as the number one movie while grossing over $50 million leading up to a total of over $200 million at the domestic box office. Ted is one of the rare exceptions in which re-organizing the release strategy of a movie actually works to the benefit of the studio in a noticeably smart and calculated decision.
Studios make the most strategic decisions with their movies during the awards season, in hoped that their product does not get lost in the crowd of numerous releases. Zero Dark Thirty and The Silver Linings Playbook were both changed from a wide release, at the last minute, to a platformed release in order to build momentum and to have word of mouth for the films peak at just the right time. Both of those films needed to strike a chord with the public and could/would have gotten lost during Thanksgiving and Christmas with both movies seeming to have benefited from the decisions greatly. Compare that with Killing Them Softly, The Brad Pitt starring film which was originally scheduled to open in September but had its release date pushed back twice! The date changed the film to mid October, and then finally late November where it released and bombed at the box office.
Sometimes a movie wouldn’t just switch its release date a few weeks, but instead the film packed up its bags and decided to re-locate to a completely different year all together! A few notable movies that shifted release included Dino Time, The Big Wedding, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, and GI Joe: Retaliation, and some of these films had already started advertising/promoting themselves with posters and trailers that highlighted their originally slated release date in 2012! The move of G.I. Joe: Retaliation was the most stunning considering it was a few weeks until its release date, had a few TV spots in rotation and including one during the 2012 Superbowl, and was considered one of the biggest movie releases of the summer movie season. Moving a movie into a completely different year means that it was quite simply the wrong time for the movie to release or the needs to be re-worked but I think that this typically signals weakness or low confidence in a product.
Changing a release date could confuse potential customers who plan ahead and I admit that I am a member of a “Meet-Ups at the Movies” Group in Denver where an organizer will plan a gathering for a movie several weeks out in advance. As a result of the release date shift it seems like the group leader for the meet-up constantly has to update the event that we originally planned by either selecting another movie or postponing a viewing for a few weeks which would frustrate any organizer.
The trend of shifting movie release dates seems to be continuing but it affects the overall brand awareness of a movie, as well as the marketing budget and I have a few suggestions. Why spend to money to print posters with release dates when they will (eventually) change? They could invest in the future and maybe the entertainment Industry, and theater companies, should invest more in digital HD TV screens to display poster in order to eliminate this cost. The studios could simply change the release date with fewer implications and spend less money updating adverts. Studios would not have to spend the money to re-print these posters, and spend more money to ship them to the thousands of theaters across the country, and using a digital screen they could simply email the poster image to the headquarters of theater companies. Traditional poster cases could and should be replaced with digital TVs in the near future with signs showing that in our digital age that this will likely become a reality.
Do you think that Hollywood making a decision to change the release date of a movie is a sign of weakness in the product? Let me know in the comments…
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Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.
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