Will 'The Interview' VOD Success Change Film Distribution Game?

December 29, 2014

The Interview

The Christmas box office weekend is over, and now it's time to see just how the combined limited theatrical release and fast VOD debut of the unnecessarily controversial comedy The Interview fared. There have been plenty of numbskulls who believe that this whole scenario was somehow a publicity stunt by Sony Pictures to make more money off the film, but we're not even going to get into why that's absolutely moronic. But now the official numbers are in, and in theaters, the film rounded up about $2.8 million. But the real news is The Interview raked in $15 million from their VOD release that began Christmas Eve.

The online haul will even be slightly bigger since The Interview only just became available on Apple's iTunes store on Sunday. It's undoubtedly the biggest digital release for Sony, but could this be a potential game changer for the industry that hasn't yet embraced the idea of releasing films on VOD and in theaters simultaneously? Well, yes and no, but the problem is that this isn't exactly the best scenario to use when considering a change in the distribution model of movies, and it's going to take some time for an overhaul.

First of all, while The Interview has an impressive pull in online sales, it's important to note that the hype around the film was unusual to say the least. Due to all the articles being written about the terrorist threats, the film being pulled from theaters, and so on, there was endless free publicity for the film in the couple weeks leading up to the film's eventual (though smaller) release. Therefore, using the film's performance as evidence that films being released on VOD will perform well alongside a theatrical release isn't entirely fair. Plus, your average VOD release wouldn't hit as many platforms as The Interview, so it's hard to gauge how the film would have fared as just another VOD title.

On the other side of the fence, some point to the solid performance of the film on VOD as a negative. Theater owners especially are using the numbers as evidence that releasing a film on VOD day-and-date with the film's theatrical debut will actually hurt the movie's box office. Of course, $2.8 million isn't a record-breaking number, but considering that the movie opened on less than 10% of the number of screens it would have in a wide release (the independent theaters also have more limited seating), and during one of the most crowded, family-oriented weekends of the year, that's not really a viable argument either.

In fact, Sony Pictures was projecting a $20 million box office weekend when their wide release was still planned, and they actually managed to almost reach that prediction with their VOD and limited theatrical engagement. Therefore, the use of VOD can obviously be beneficial to studios, especially with films that have limited theatrical reach, but making audiences aware of those films on the same level as The Interview would not be as easy. This unique release of The Interview will certainly be analyzed for awhile, but we'll have to wait and see how the industry reacts and if any real changes occur in distribution. Thoughts?

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The movie had the benefits of the Streisand Effect, I doubt other movies will be as effective.

Dan Hibiki on Dec 29, 2014


Keep in mind the Sony will get to keep MOST of the 20 million grossed by VOD compared to having to split the 20 million right down the middle were it released theatrically.

Zack Snyder on Dec 29, 2014


true but they had 100 mil in cost after prod+marketing..making 20mil at this point without a wide theatrical release is peanuts. This VOD model makes no sense for high budget movies at this point and will stay relegated as a revenue channel for the smaller movies

desispeed on Dec 29, 2014


It would be nice if some of the 'independent' movies that are 'limited release' saw VOD sooner. Even living outside DC, I have a heck of a time finding a theater that shows many of the smaller or indie films (the recent "Love Is Strange" is a good one; same for this year's earlier entry "Belle").

VAharleywitch on Dec 29, 2014


I feel like comedy is subjective so calling people morons for liking it is moronic in itself. My wife and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but we have liked nearly all of Seth Rogen's films of the past 5 years. You don't need to belittle other people to have an opinion about a film. Just state the specific issues you had with it and then we can have a discussion.

MattPeloquin on Dec 29, 2014


My reaction is that you're a moron, Bo. Please don't think this is important enough that it's worth your time to reply. Just know that you're a moron. I'm sorry that I can't change this. How about it might be in your best interest to address your reactions to his reactions to your opinions rather than try to control his reactions to the stupid things you say. Regarding the money made, the 2.8 mill from theatres + 15 mill from VOD sounds a lot worse than a straight up 17.8 mill from theatres. Maybe they will get to keep a lot more of that 15 mill, but now that it's so widely spread, the VOD revenue won't go much higher than that, if at all.

Win on Dec 29, 2014


Very true 🙂

Hugo on Dec 30, 2014


too long didn't read please write another essay about how much you don't care about other people's opinions, especially when they disagree with your opinions.

Win on Dec 30, 2014


I don't think this really changes anything, really. No other film will get this kind of exposure and hype.

DAVIDPD on Dec 29, 2014


SUCESS? How can this be a sucess when the film cost 40 US Millions to be made. Overall the films has always to have a major plataform as it is the cinema - and the rest will came after. But i believe its important a film screens in the cinema.

Hugo on Dec 30, 2014

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