In a sign of the times, Magnolia Pictures will release Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" both in theaters (April 12) but also day and date via Video on Demand and iTunes. The film, starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurlylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams, showed initially at the Venice and Toronto festivals last year, and was acquired by Magnolia shortly thereafter.
The company, a pioneer in Video on Demand presentation of major movies, is following their successful pattern for Lars von Trier's "Melancholia": with a key difference. That film had a VOD availability in advance of its theatrical premiere. "To the Wonder" will have a same-day release in 15 major markets.
Malick's multi-Oscar nominated "The Tree of Life" had a more conventional theatrical release through Fox Searchlight, opening limited just after its Cannes premiere, then widening out to 233 theaters and an ultimate gross of $13.3 million before it became available for home viewing. "Melancholia" -- like "To the Wonder" from a director with a significant following that had a somewhat polarized response -- still grossed over $3 million in its theatrical release along with a reported $2 million or more from its VOD play (as well as additional revenue from later DVD sales and cable sale). But with Malick having some of the most passionate fans among specialized moviegoers, this offers the potential for being an even bigger success for the ever-more-important medium.
"To the Wonder," despite the initial impression that it did not earn the same acclaim as "The Tree of Life," at this early stage still boasts a respectable 72 rating from major critics at Metacritic. Though now "Wonder" will likely have far less theatrical exposure than "Life" (major circuits like Regal, AMC and Cinemark will not play VOD-available films under normal circumstances), this way it has the chance of being more widely seen.
Like "Melancholia," confirms Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles, "To the Wonder" will qualify for the 2013 Oscars. The company anticipates expanding the film to a level similar to most of their releases. "Melancholia" at its widest point played at 134 theaters.