“Carol,” an elegantly wrought romance about two lesbians falling in love at the height of Cold War era conformity, is embracing an unconventional release strategy.
The film has received some of the best reviews of the year and is expected to be a major factor in the Oscar race, but instead of trying to push “Carol” into as many theaters as possible, the Weinstein Company is deploying a very deliberate distribution pattern.
“Carol” is still in the same four theaters in New York and Los Angeles where it opened two weeks ago and will not go into additional cities until Dec. 11.
“We love the movie, but we want to be cautious,” said Erik Lomis, the Weinstein Company’s distribution chief. “We want to take a smart, slow and steady approach.”
The caution may be warranted. “Carol” has done very well in its limited release, earning $588,355 since opening and scoring the second best per-theater average with $50,769 for the second weekend in a row. Moreover, stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett and director Todd Haynes have scored a rapturous response from critics. Some studios might be tempted to use the awards chatter to justify a nationwide launch.
However, it has been a brutal period for adult dramas. Films such as “Steve Jobs” and “Truth” have been unable to turn good reviews into solid box office, and others, such as Angelina Jolie’s marital drama “By the Sea,” flopped spectacularly. They follow a slew of Sundance Film Festival acquisitions like “Dope” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” that failed to turn Park City buzz into ticket sales.
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The competition is only intensifying. Already, a pair of well reviewed dramas, “Spotlight” and “Brooklyn,” are in more than 800 theaters apiece where they are doing solid business. But some indie players privately fear there will be little left over for the rash of Oscar hopefuls flooding screens in the coming weeks.
The problem is that a rise in quality shows on television such as “Better Call Saul” and “Homeland,” as well as the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, are making it harder for people to justify abandoning the comforts of home for multiplexes.
In order to stand out, films need awards to succeed. But Oscar voters don’t have long memories and most major nominees tend to debut between September and December. That can lead to a bloodbath as a glut of indies and prestige pictures all duke it out for a diminishing crowd of cinephiles.
“These are movies that are aimed at a particular older audience that reads and cares about reviews,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “The problem is that more and more of them are coming and it gets to the point where there isn’t enough time to see them all.”
The Weinstein Company historically has had a great deal of success of capitalizing on Oscar nods, fielding best picture winners and box office hits such as “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.” Those films waited between four to eight weeks before unspooling in more than 600 theaters.
It’s a playbook “Carol” will follow closely. On Dec. 11, the studio will add a few more markets and will have the film in 15 to 20 theaters. It will expand to the top 50 film markets on Christmas day and plans to have “Carol” playing in 150 theaters. At some point between January 8 and 15, the picture will be on anywhere from 500 to 700 locations.
By then many major awards givers will have announced nominations or handed out hardware and the Weinstein Company will find out if in the case of “Carol,” slow and steady wins the race.