Under normal pre-pandemic, digital-age circumstances, the simple act of going to the local movie theater was already sorely compromised.
According to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, Q1 domestic box office sales were already off 25.4% at $1.79 billion before the quarantine even started.
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Now, with many movie theaters still closed during this worldwide health crisis, and a growing list of potential blockbuster films delayed until 2021, the predicted loss in box office sales in 2020 is more than 40%.
With theater chains shuttered indefinitely, most major summer blockbusters have been pushed off the 2020 calendar, with studio suppliers unwilling to release expensive titles straight to transactional on-demand streaming. Small- to mid-budget titles like Trolls World Tour and King of Staten Island are as close as you’ll come to a summer blockbuster these days.
So not only are the big SVOD services having to think long and hard as to how to furnish their hungry, and larger than usual, customer bases with original content amid pandemic-caused production shutdowns, movie rental/sales platforms are finding themselves short of titles, too.
In this milieu, an opportunity has emerged for unlikely home theater breakouts, as studio suppliers seek VOD streaming distribution for their more budget-friendly titles.
One notable example is Screen Media’s war-themed film The Outpost.
Directed by veteran TV series helmer Rod Lurie and based on the non-fiction book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tepper, The Outpost was originally scheduled to be previewed at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March. A limited theatrical release was to follow.
But as is often in wartime, the plan went sideways.
The movie’s biographical plot centers around 53 U.S. soldiers and two Latvian military advisors, left alone at the remote Combat Outpost Keating, who battled as many as 400 enemy insurgents in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. It stars Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Milo Gibson, and Jack Kesy.
The Outpost debuted on transactional streaming VOD, and in select theaters (a reported 69) on July 3. It opened as the No. 1 rented movie on iTunes and FandangoNow, resulting it the largest opening day in Screen media history, according to Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, which owns the movie comapny.
Chicken Soup for the Soul stock rose 26% on Monday, July 6, following the film’s VOD release.
A critical favorite, The Outpost currently has a 91% score based on 710 reviews on internet aggregation platform Rotten Tomatoes.
Said RogerEbert.com critic Brian Tallerico: “Director Rod Lurie’s first film in almost a decade is also one of his best, and the first movie since our national nightmare began in 2020 that I really regretted not being able to see in a theater. While I would always prefer a theatrical exhibition, the truth is that films like The King of Staten Island and Trolls: World Tour haven’t lost a lot by transitioning from the multiplex to VOD. However, The Outpost is designed to be a visceral, you-are-there experience, a film like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan that drops viewers in the middle of an absolute nightmare.”
Added Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz: “While not every genre, at present, may not be the best fit content-wise during this pandemic, I do believe there is still a need for this war-type storytelling.”
The Outpost, which has a modest IMDB-reported production budget of $18 million, had a scrappy theatrical release plan put together before the pandemic hit. Would it’s performance otherwise have generated more coin in a world without COVID-19? Tough to say.
“The Outpost came to us from Screen Media Films, and we immediately began a discussion of a limited engagement through Fathom Events utilizing our marketing and promotional assets,” said Ray Nutt, CEO, of live-events production company Fathom Events.
“We were confident of its success after screening it,” he added. “The movie had all the ingredients of a big screen epic. And we timed the opening on July 2 in about 700 or 800 theaters right before Independence Day. Films of that nature tend to have a better time resonating at that time of year. Of course, that never came to fruition.”
Not surprisingly, The Outpost is burnishing belief that at-home pandemic viewing will result in the theatrical distribution business eroding even faster than it was before COVID-19.
“So, in these times when so much is out of our control, we trade the big screen for the remote control of our big screen TV minus the rising costs at theaters,” said Mike Tankel, partner/optimist at the marketing and development firm To Be Continued. “As we sought out other options in this current quarantine, watching movies on VOD became a recurring and comforting habit. And a cost effective one, too.”
Marc Berman is editor-in-chief for media-centric The Programming Insider (programminginsider.com (opens in new tab)), which pioneered the email newsletter format at its inception in 1999. Marc has written for a wide range of publications including Broadcasting + Cable, Next TV, Forbes, Newspro, Campaign US, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Known as “Mr. Television” at Mediaweek (now Adweek), Marc has appeared on camera on Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Inside Edition and CNN and MSNBC, among other series and outlets. He is a member of The Television Critics Association and The Broadcast Journalists Television Association. And Marc put his TV historian hat on as author of desk calendar Today in TV History.
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