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Platform Releases: When to Expand?

Kristen Stewart On the Road Marylou Garrett HedlundPlatform releases

[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. (Image: 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.

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Continue Reading: Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders 'Scandal': 'Cosmopolis,' 'On the Road' Box Office

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5 Comments to Platform Releases: When to Expand?

  1. Georgia

    Thank you for responding. I just see the obscene media coverage as overshadowing rather than boosting. I don't believe the average, non industry, non fan, person understood there was a film in the midst of the gossip. Don't get me wrong, Cosmopolis was never going to be a blockbuster but should have done similar numbers to other limited release Cronenberg films and should have probably equaled at least its France totals in the US.

  2. Andre


    Your points are well taken. Thank you for writing. Much appreciated.

  3. Georgia

    Just to add…. Not all attention is good attention. Cosmopolis' opening was scheduled well before the events in July. The build up to the opening, even with fans, ended up being diminished. You may disagree, but, I do not believe talk of the affair equated to attention for the film. The numbers at the three sites on opening weekend were significantly enhanced by post screening appearances, discussions with Cronenberg which ignited intense interest by already focused fans. Those aware of and anticipating the opening were not impacted either way by the promo. Those that could have further enhanced the numbers never had their interest piqued by the televised promo because the focus was never the film, which, as I said, was an afterthought for those trying to get a scoop. The excitement for the film was lost in the frenzy over the scandal. I do think the story for OTR is hardly finished, it opened during a crowded weekend further hindered by the pending holiday. It should do decent numbers if allowed to find its audience something the media and Eone failed to allow Cosmopolis to do.

  4. Georgia

    I will disagree about the affair helping Cosmopolis. I know of many who were asking last month if Cosmopolis was ever released in the US. When told of the August release they recall Pattinson's appearances on the Stewart or the morning shows but say they thought he was there because of the affair. They do not recall the film being discussed because, on most shows, it was an after thought. The hardcore fans , Cronenberg's and Pattinson's, were aware of the opening. Those that could of had interest piqued with the promotion were lost by the media coverage of the scandal. The poor distribution by Eone didn't help either. I live in a major city where it opened in the second week of release. There were absolutely no print or television ads and absolutely no posters, etc. The only 'advertising' was the reviews one of which was extremely positive and one that was negative. Two weeks in the past, the initial, muddied promotion had no effect. Also, obviously little thought meant in to the release locations. Many fans I know we're unable to see the film until its VOD release this past week.

  5. Freda Ericssen

    Guys, you are obsessed with Stewart-Pattinson thing. You are overanalyzing.