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Why Universal Is Not Rushing Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ Into Theaters

Formula One racing movie bows limited before going wide next weekend

Oscar-winning director? Check. Rising Hollywood star? Check. Plenty of studio marketing muscle? Excellent early reviews? Check, check.

Ron Howard’s Formula One racing movie “Rush” certainly has the high-profile elements to warrant a nationwide theatrical blowout. Yet, Universal, the distributor-for-hire on the film, has opted to open the Chris Hemsworth starrer at just five Stateside locations Friday before going wide next weekend.

The limited release, which should result in a sizable and therefore brag-worthy opening per-screen average, is meant to help lift the film’s profile for Stateside audiences. The platform bow also avoids a head-to-head battle with Warner Bros.’ similarly adult-targeted “Prisoners,” which is expected to win the weekend with $18 million-$20 million in wide release.

VIDEO: Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde on Their New “Rush”

If “Rush” doesn’t perform to expectations at its five opening locations (the five largest in the country), however, Universal will have provided other exhibitors with little incentive to play the film on their choicest screens next weekend.

It’s a risky move, for sure, though a platform release is not uncommon for elevated studio titles: Paramount used the strategy on “The Fighter” in 2010, and Warners does so with practically every Clint Eastwood film.

Popular on Variety

For “Rush,” which cost $38 million from co-producers and financiers Exclusive Media and Cross Creek, Howard and company have always faced an uphill battle in the States:

  •  Race car movies rarely win at the box office. Plus, “Rush” is a period film about a real-life rivalry between two Formula One racers, Brit James Hunt, played by Hemsworth, and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) — not a well-known story in the U.S.
  • Moreover, “Rush” failed to debut at No. 1 in the U.K., where it had the widest-ever launch for local distrib StudioCanal, earning just north of $3 million locally, behind “Insidious Chapter 2” ($4.6 million).

However, “Rush” received “highly favorable” ratings from 92% of the opening U.K. audience.

SEE ALSO: Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ for Independent Film Financing

Universal says the platform release was done to capitalize on the buzz coming out of the Toronto Film Festival, as well as to build on positive early reviews (currently at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Not surprisingly, the film is generating the loudest buzz with men over 25, though it recently has gained some traction with young females, according to Universal.

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