Movie Release Schedules: It’s All about the Numbers

Aug 7, 2019 | BIZ, POP

East Asia DeskKari.Amarnani author

Virgin America Cabin | Thomas Hawk

From the US to Asia, why do movies get released at different times and different locations?

So you’re excited about a movie that’s coming up. You check release dates and discover that the movie is showing much earlier in a different state. You’re engulfed in frustration and jealousy. We’ve all been through it. At this point, it’s expected. But has it ever occurred to anyone to ask themselves: why does this even happen? It is perfectly reasonable to release movies at the same time. Everyone gets to enjoy it in unison, and the biggest perk of all, no spoilers. So why?

One concise answer could not possibly do it. Many factors go into the reason movies get released at separate times, although all aspects contain a common attribute. Money.

Strategy Leads to Profit:

Creating a film does not come cheap. Movie budgets range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and the expectation (and hope) is that the movie is a hit, raking in profit that would make its initial budget tremble in inferiority. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Some films do bomb and the results aren’t pretty. To avoid these situations, studios have discovered a strategic technique that builds suspense and credibility, ultimately allowing for more profit.

The mission is to get a return on investment as quickly as possible. When a movie is about to come out, the first couple of days of its release are incredibly crucial. It paves the way to the understanding of the film’s status and success rate. In short, one finds out if it’s been a successful endeavor in the first week. This is especially true for Asian markets because of their enthusiastic population— they waste no time watching a much-awaited movie. Let’s say it was a Hollywood blockbuster. This provides a solid foundation and elevation to the studio’s profit. It’s already making money and it hasn’t even been released locally. 75% of most United States ticket sales come from foreign audiences.

Plucking Tea at Ceylon | Museum of Photography Unknown

When done correctly and without regulation, this process is almost full-proof. Profit will most definitely come. Although, some countries choose to not let it get out of hand. And by some countries, I mean China. 

China has an import quota that strictly only allows 34 Hollywood movies to be screened within its borders every year. This creates tension and struggle between the nation and Hollywood studios. China has the largest population, not to mention, the largest economy in the world, and appealing to that demographic would ensure a return on investment as quick as a whip. So if a film gets released towards the end of the year, chances are China’s got no room for it, so plan accordingly. The early bird gets the worm. And trust me, there are a lot of worms.

First screening locations all differ and they do for various reasons. At the end of the day, it depends on the country, the nature of its population and demographics. And most importantly, the kind of relationship that the releasing country has with its choice of their first screening location. It’s all about figuring out how to capitalize. 

Maximizing Profits: An Uphill Battle

If a movie gets a head start in regaining production profits, it makes way for a larger revenue in the future. If not that, releasing films outside the country of production allows for insight on its probable success. Almost like a test run.  

In 2010, Marvel decided to first release Iron Man 2 outside of the United States, delaying its initial screening by a whole day. This resulted in zero drops to its box office takings. Marvel did the same thing a year later with Thor and it was the same result. The technique allowed them to advertise its sales, creating eagerness and suspense in the American population. 

And to add fuel to the money-making fire, the media gets in on this— generating stories with advertisements with words like “Australia’s box office smash” or “highest-grossing film in Asia” to boost interest. How sneaky. Marvel originally attempted this as an experiment and it’s worked out so well that they haven’t gone back since. 

In some countries, distribution is way too expensive so they have to release films outside of home for any chance to make a profit at all. This is true for the United States. It is no longer a huge market for major films. In 2015, Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron grossed $460 million in the United States and $950 million in foreign territories. If the movie had been released at the same time, there is no way this would have happened. Sometimes, you need all the help you can get.

Airline Movie Selections: Does the Lineup Matter?

There’s nothing worse than being on a flight with absolutely nothing to do. All it is is time you’re never getting back. Thank goodness for the progress of technology. Luckily, we live in an age where in-flight entertainment stands as a multi-billion dollar industry and it continues to rapidly grow. How customers bide their time in the air is a major selling point for many airlines.  Some airlines boast about their unlimited and extensive array films to rake in customers. And you know what? It works.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t just about quantity. Quality plays a major role in this industry. What exactly are the kinds of movies people want to see when they’re stuck 34,000 feet into the air?

The most important facets to look at are season, genre and arrival location. The ideal set-up is to have a selection that resonates to an individual’s life at that moment. If it’s summertime and school is out, they would find family-friendly and coming-of-age movies for adolescents. If the flight is bound to Italy or Greece, chances are the airline’s got a bunch of artsy customers who are most likely into obscure and indie films about culture, travel and history. If the results deemed profitable, the process keeps going. If not, settling for blockbusters is the safe bet. According to Andrew Wingrove, Delta’s managing director:

“We look at that data to see if these movies did really well, then we bring on more of those. Rather than telling customers what they should be watching, we’re investing in what they’re already watching.”

Being familiar with the passengers’ tastes allows airlines to generate a targeted entertainment platform. This way, customers do not have to exhaust themselves flipping through hundreds of choices actively filtering out movies that interest them in no way whatsoever. How amazing it would be to open the entertainment device and immediately love what you see? Looks like a great flight.

David Scotland, the Alaska Airlines’ manager of in-flight entertainment and connectivity, states that genres such as action, adventure and comedy do very well on airplanes.

Films have a way of touching our souls through its relatability and emotional core. And to be behind the curtains, involved in the production, distribution and investment of it all is just as much of an intense experience. We all want to see our beloved movies succeed and rise through the ranks, and if it means having to wait for it while it’s out and proud in another nation, I’m sure it’s worth the wait.