Back in the day, when people actually visited video rental places, movies that either had a short life in theaters or went straight to video basically had to hope the millions of people sifting through the new release shelves would find their video cover and hope that its lack of familiarity would go overlooked. Those movies have given way to Netflix recommendations, but it's pretty much the same thing. Recently, we've seen new films that know they have a niche audience advertise on YouTube and go On Demand before the movie even hits theaters. It's not new in this day and age, it just has become a lot more common.
Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie and God Bless America Look For A Niche Audience
Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie recently played at Sundance, and then it went to an On Demand service that also includes rental on iTunes and YouTube. That's something we'll be seeing a lot of in the future. Because frankly, a movie like Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie has very little chance of being a success in actual movie theaters. I know in my neck of the woods, this movie is only going to get a special Friday and Saturday midnight showing when it finally does arrive in theaters, and then it will be gone.
Here's the trailer (warning – it's a red band trailer, with all the bad language, violence, and dirty stuff):
[Video removed from YouTube]
I'm not a huge fan of Tim & Eric, mainly because I think their style of humor falls into the "random for the sake of random" category. But they have a huge following and massive support from the Funny or Die community and regularly get Will Ferrell, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and John C. Reilly to appear on their shows. And despite my absolute faith that I would not like their new movie, I went ahead and plunked down the $10 to watch it.
The movie is pretty vile, but it has some decent moments and I think fans of the comedy duo will enjoy it (I love Will Ferrell's advertisement to come "run his mall"). And in the end, isn't that exactly what they want? And why try to push it into theaters, only to be ushered out in a couple of weeks anyway when it doesn't do giant business? I think in this case, the On Demand aspect of the film's distribution is absolutely what they need. Get rabid fans to pay for it On Demand, and even possibly get those same people to go in groups in a limited weekend release when it hits theaters. Because the opening Friday and Saturday attendance is pretty much the entire amount of business they're going to get anyway.
God Bless America: A Viral Trailer For A Non-Major Film Release
There's a trailer on YouTube right now for Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, basically a Falling Down for the reality-TV generation. The red-band trailer has a view count of nearly 200,000 since its upload on January 28. Starring Bill Murray's brother Joel, who you might recognize as Fred Rumsen from Mad Men or Eddie Jackson from Shameless, it's got that cathartic, hilariously irresponsible video game violence feel. If you can't beat 'em, kill 'em (warning: this red band trailer has all the f-bombs and violence that people like me enjoy):
[Video removed from YouTube]
So once again you can see this movie On Demand before it even hits theaters, which will also likely be a limited run. Movies like these can work extremely well in this format, because there's less pressure to have a huge opening weekend. And who knows? There might be a movie like this at some point that gets such an overwhelming response on YouTube that it gets a huge theater run (we certainly saw this with Paranormal Activity). But we come back to the size of the screen: we don't need to see this on a super-huge screen with multi-channel Dolby Digital sound. Why even bother making the trek out to a movie theater when the movie is just as good on a laptop or TV screen?
Movies In Theaters Will One Day Be Just The Big Event Pictures
We want to see The Dark Knight Rises on the biggest screen imaginable. Movie theaters will always have their place for event pictures, even though we might see those available On Demand simultaneously in the future. We already saw it get tested in a very unusual way with Tower Heist. But even if that ever becomes a reality, and movie theaters will fight that model, those Dark Knight Rises kind of movies will always be our big-screen choices. But if you're a small movie and you don't have much of a distribution deal, then why not try the Tim & Eric Billion Dollar Movie route? I don't think these kinds of movies have much to lose in that regard.