[See previous post: "Robert Pattinson Fan, Cosmopolis vs. On the Road."] Platform releases are those when a distributor "tests the box office waters" before spending extra cash opening the film in more markets / locations. In North America, Los Angeles and New York are the two urban centers -- at times with the addition of Toronto -- where micro-platform releases usually take place. (Photo: Kristen Stewart On the Road, with Garrett Hedlund in the background.)
Movies distributed in that manner, such as Cosmopolis and On the Road, open at only a handful of theaters. If the per-theater averages are good -- or great -- the film expands; i.e., it opens in more theaters. But what's a "good" or "great" per-theater average? That depends on the exact number of venues; remember, all things being equal, the smaller the number of theaters the higher the per-theater average should be.
Different platform releases: On the Road vs. The Impossible
For comparison's sake: starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible opened in North America (coincidentally via Twilight's Summit Entertainment) on the same weekend as On the Road. The Impossible grossed $143,818 at 15 venues, averaging $9,588 per site. That's $300 less than On the Road. So, does that mean On the Road is the more successful movie? Not at all. Remember: On the Road was screening at four locations; The Impossible at 15 -- that's nearly four times as many. Hence, if the two movies had the same level of box office success On the Road's per-theater average should have been much higher than The Impossible's.
If a film in platform release opens with a modest per-theater average -- say, below $20,000-$30,000 for a movie at 2-6 locations -- there's a very good chance that movie will have a small expansion. Or no expansion at all. At times, the distributor will merely keep the movie at a handful of theaters, but in different locations -- e.g., dropping two New York venues while adding one venue in San Francisco and another in Denver; the next week, dropping San Francisco and Denver, while adding Miami and Detroit, and so on, for a few weeks.
The Cosmopolis case
That's basically what happened to Cosmopolis after its solid first-weekend take ($23,446 average at three sites as per Box Office Mojo) plummeted following the film's expansion to 63 locations on weekend no. 2 (a meager $2,429 per-theater average). Two weeks later, only 45 theaters were showing Cosmopolis in the U.S. Two weeks after that, only nine.
In sum, if a movie in platform release doesn't find its audience on its first or second weekend out, almost invariably it will either have a very small expansion or none at all. "Oh, but fans can't drive ten hours to watch a movie." No, not fans who live in Utah and want to catch a movie in Los Angeles. But those fans who live in the L.A. area wouldn't have to drive that long, not even during rush hour. They are the target audience of platform releases. If those fans buy tickets, then distributors feel secure that more fans elsewhere will do the same; if they don't, distributors may not want to increase their distribution / marketing expenses to release potentially unprofitable movies in smaller markets.
The Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders 'Scandal'
In my On the Road box office post this past weekend, several commenters took umbrage with my remark that the Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders to-do helped Cosmopolis on its first weekend out in North America. Now, do I have hard proof that it did? Of course not. One would need to interview those people who bought tickets.
But stop and think for a moment: eOne Films is releasing Cosmopolis in the United States in mid-August. Following the scandal in late July, Robert Pattinson remains "in hiding" for several weeks and then resurfaces for the New York Cosmopolis premiere, and later is interviewed on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The global media covers the event as if it's the Second Coming.
["Platform Releases" continues on the next page. See link below.]
Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund On the Road photo: IFC Films.