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

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
January 18, 2014 12:32 PM
16 Comments
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'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.

16 Comments

  • Jon | January 23, 2014 9:56 PMReply

    So lets review. Roadside controlled the release from start. Yet release dates and timing were part of (if not a lot of) the problem. Isn't that where Roadside's expertise is supposed to be?

  • Caroline | January 22, 2014 7:34 PMReply

    The final verdict on all of this comes from the news that JC Chandor has signed a distribution deal for his next film with A24 today. Roadside's loss is their gain. I can't image many other promising young auteurs will want to work with Roadside after this either.

  • Katie | January 19, 2014 11:36 PMReply

    Not showing the film at TIFF was a crucial mistake. This is the one that everyone follows and more stars and critics were there than anywhere garnering the most publicity. Early words of praise and impressions of the films come from here. Essentially films are launched here and I am sure others such as myself decide what I am looking forward to seeing based on what we hear from TIFF. Are there any other movies where there is only one actor in the entire film and it absolutely holds your attention and captivates you? This is no small feat. This and other impressions could put this movie on a must see list.

  • Seth Willenson | January 19, 2014 10:44 PMReply

    Good article

    Redford's comments are unfortunate self centered and naive since Roadside made a great effort to support the film
    Its hard for a star and central figure of independent films like Redford to understand the change of his appeal in both commercial movies and specialty films where has lost a lot
    of the audience
    He has delivered great performances in commercial vehicles from ThreeDays of the Condor to
    All the Presidents Men and of course Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid etc. These were all a long time ago

    He has used his star power for good causes but Sundance doesn't equate contemporary star appeal .

    Unfortunately you can't create want to see.

    The bar has risen with the tremendous number of films opening, the decline of critics and
    newspapers and of course the extreme expenditure of marketing dollars

    Good job Roadside

  • Jon | January 23, 2014 9:52 PM

    Failure is a good job?

  • Rich | January 19, 2014 6:18 PMReply

    This analysis does not take into account the fact that Roadside had initially planned for a much faster expansion (which they promoted for a month or so as a nationwide open on October 25). Because they backed out of this, they lost some of their best theater bookings in the crowded fall season. In my hometown, the largest and most impressive theater at our local Landmark was prepared for a minimum 3-week engagement starting October 25, but when Roadside pulled back on its initial expansion plans, they had to find other bookings. A month or so later, when Lost hit town, Landmark could only make room for "an exclusive one-week engagement" in a small screening room in its secondary theater, and by then much of the interest in the film had dissipated regardless.

    It seems many in other cities have similar stories. I don't blame Redford for being disappointed. Roadside could've gotten on the map with this release, and they bungled it.

  • Kate | January 19, 2014 10:40 PM

    Agree. I had been looking for this movie to come out and wondered where it was. I was looking at first at all theaters, then narrowed to the two theaters that would typically show this type of movie and still no luck and wondered if it simply was not going to be released and just gave up.
    I happened to hear from a friend that it was at a very small art theater and had been out a few weeks. No publicity for this film including where and when it would be released. I live in a southern city of over a million population in the greater metropolitan area and that is a big population of people to draw from. Can't help but think there were a lot of people like me in this and other cities where this same scenario played out.
    I am glad that Redford has called them out for it.

  • ams | January 19, 2014 3:34 PMReply

    And the title is a downer.

  • Joe | January 19, 2014 12:19 PMReply

    One must look at the fact that just a year ago we got Life of Pi, which has a similar stranded at sea premise. That film played far and wide, and this just seemed like a VOD version of that film. Also, a distributor can raise awareness but the star has to promote the film too. That being said the newer actors who scored noms this year got so based on their performances not politics. It is sad to see RR take such a stance. It's beneath the politics he mentioned

  • Joe | January 19, 2014 12:19 PMReply

    One must look at the fact that just a year ago we got Life of Pi, which has a similar stranded at sea premise. That film played far and wide, and this just seemed like a VOD version of that film. Also, a distributor can raise awareness but the star has to promote the film too. That being said the newer actors who scored noms this year got so based on their performances not politics. It is sad to see RR take such a stance. It's beneath the politics he mentioned

  • Michael Harpster | January 18, 2014 6:50 PMReply

    good analysis. Cohen knows what he is doing. The opening was soft. But the real clue is in the prior film,THE COMPANY WE KEEP-when Sony expanded and got up to about 800 runs-it fell flat. So with a soft opening and poor response to Redford 's prior film in expansion Cohen made the right call. More than likely they spent less than 2.5 so they are positive coming out of theatrical. Contrast to Sony- who probably spent closer to 4 with the expanison to 800+ screens and grossed onky a less than 6.

  • mwblock | January 18, 2014 1:45 PMReply

    First rate analysis. Roadside did an excellent job. I attended the Academy screening of the film and while it was evident that the viewers liked the film, liked Redford it was not a slam dunk. This year with the Academy, the competition for Best Actor is insane. Far too many excellent choices and just 5 slots. Likely Redford (and Hanks) missed out by a handful of votes. The last spot or two were likely super tight. To blame Roadside is nuts. They do such an amazing job most of the time would be so unfair.

  • LC | January 18, 2014 1:21 PMReply

    Seeing reports that Redford himself was reluctant to make appearances. Then that isn't Lionsgate or Roadside's fault.

  • LC | January 18, 2014 1:07 PMReply

    Saw 'Stories We Tell' at Telluride in 2012 and again in theater in 2013. Still think about it. Far superior to any of the documentary nominees (which I've also seen).

    Redford's performance & 'All is Lost' were much better than Dern & 'Nebraska'. But I saw Dern promoted everywhere with little mention of Redford in print or on-line.

    Your article didn't compare the amount of money spent promoting the films. You've got to spend money to make money. Tom Jonsey's post may explain something. Profit over promotion?

  • Stan Ceede | January 18, 2014 1:04 PMReply

    Wonderful analysis. Very enlightening. To some extent, no one knows anything in any aspect of the film business. Redford should recognize that the audience considers him irrelevant and should shoulder some of the blame for the failure of "All Is Lost." He certainly did not do much to promote the film.

  • Tom Jonsey | January 18, 2014 12:48 PMReply

    Let's be honest - Roadside had three good films that didn't get the traction - or the awards - they should have - "All is Lost," "Stories We Tell" and "In A World."

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