It used to be you knew what you were in for when a movie was not, as the trailers say, “only in theaters”: something way too highbrow or way too, well, too bad for a studio to put money behind a cinematic release.
This week, the movie Bachelorette—a raunchy dark comedy starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan as bridesmaids who are not as interested in the wedding as they are in the party that proceeds it—seems to have heralded the end of that era. The film premiered at Sundance this year but doesn’t come out in the U.S. until Sept. 7 for a limited release. Still, it’s already made more than a half a million dollars in video-on-demand and online rental formats. (Which is about as much as a decent indie opening weekend in theaters, notes Variety.) Since its release last Friday in the iTunes rental store, where it is available for $9.99, it reached No. 1 on the download charts—the first movie to ever do so prior to its theatrical release, according to Reuters.
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Bachelorette’s distribution scheme comes courtesy of RADiUS, a Weinstein company created specifically to deal with new methods of releasing movies; even though this is the first RADiUS film, clearly the idea has legs. And although other movies have gone the iTunes/VOD route first—Dunst’s Melancholia did it last year—the success of Bachelorette is good news for mainstream-ish movies that people want to see but about which studios may be wary. According to Deadline, even though a ‘Ladies With A Hangover’ movie sounds appealing (especially post-Bridesmaids) and Sundance audiences loved Bachelorette, the characters were just too unsympathetic for the R-rated film to score a big traditional distribution deal.
Promotional help from the cast (for example, Rebel Wilson, who plays the unlucky bride, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel last night) helped the movie overcome any straight-to-not-quite-video stigma. It’s a good time in general to separate VOD releases from old-timey straight-to-video. Straight-to-video may soon be a thing of the past anyway: The Wrap reported this weekend that, because of low sales, Warner Bros. is dismantling its straight-to-video division. With other non-theatrical options on the rise, that’s bad news for anyone hoping for a sequel to the sequel to the sequel to Free Willy and pretty much no big deal for the rest of us.