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Anatomy of a Release: Roadside Attractions' Redford-Starrer 'All Is Lost'

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood January 18, 2014 at 12:32PM

Did Roadside Attractions do anything wrong in distributing "All is Lost," as Robert Redford has suggested? Compare Roadside's overall release plan to similar English-language limited-release films and the company did about as well as it realistically could have.
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All is Lost
'All is Lost'

Among other awards-oriented films with an even higher profile and considerably more success, at least in revenues if not profits, the ratio of initial PSA and total gross (for "All Is Lost," multiples of 380 and 65 respectively) show that Roadside had a respectable playoff despite the weak initial gross. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" grossed a bit more than double what "Lost" has done ($13.2 million) after opening roughly three times as well, with slightly lower multiples, and Fox Searchlight has been showered with praise for its work (Oscar nominations helped). More recently, CBS Films has shown huge commitment to "Inside Llewyn Davis," which had a huge opening a few weeks ago ($404,000 in four theaters). 

Near the end of its run, having failed to score key nods, "Inside Llewyn Davis"" is now approaching $10 million, with multiples so far of 98 and 24 --far, far below "Lost" and not getting much higher despite at least double the outlays of advertising, particularly late in the race. Among all films surveyed, "Lost" ranked in the top quarter of ultimate performers, and several of the others ("Philomena," "The Book Thief" and "Mandela" leading the way) played in many more theaters, adding to their grosses, with substantially higher ad budgets that will cut down on profits, if any, with only "Philomena" likely to wind up in the black thanks to awards attention).

What Roadside didn't get is the higher gross total or the Best Actor nomination. But based on the initial gross, it's hard to argue that they did anything wrong. A different release date wouldn't have guaranteed a much higher opening, and might have made getting dates more difficult, thus reducing the gross. It is hard to see any scenario in which the gross, short of expending massively higher advertising costs and going into a 1,000+ theater break, that this could have yielded much more.

Roadside elevated the film via festival attention, chose the right time of year to open, and landed great reviews and a Redford Best Actor win from the New York Film Critics Circle. But the public, while support from Roadside remained high, never embraced the film. This suggests that resistance based on mixed word of mouth kept the performance lower. And a lack of enthusiasm from SAG and the Academy actors led to the Oscar snub, not lack of awareness or interest. By contrast "Nebraska" has only grossed about $9 million so far, benefiting from holiday playtime, but obtained six nominations. 

This is a case where the operation was a success--but the patient did not thrive as well as hoped.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, All Is Lost, Robert Redford, Awards, Awards, Oscars, Marketing, Distribution


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