Defining a successful movie release has been a fraught task lately due to the coronavirus pandemic, as premium theatrical films shift to digital debuts and massive blockbusters get kicked down the calendar.
Thanks to a few transparent scoreboards like the iTunes store, however, the industry can see plainly when a hit is a hit. Last weekend, the Saban Films release “The Silencing” made a lot of noise as the top rental in the country, at the attractive price point of $6.99. The film has amassed roughly $5 million in PVOD sales, insiders familiar with the tally told Variety.
The Nikolaj Coster-Waldau thriller also opened on 79 screens, taking in $53,205 according to box office data, making it the top grossing new film release with the highest per-screen average in the U.S. The modestly-budgeted action film follows a string of other Cinderella stories surrounding low-cost genre fare with popcorn appeal and a bold name or two for a brooding one-sheet (Orlando Bloom’s “The Outpost,” Shia LaBeouf’s “The Tax Collector”).
Saban Films president Bill Bromiley, whose company boarded “The Silencing” at script stage, says films like these are finding wide audiences starved for new content — while simultaneously teaching consumers to anticipate and celebrate home-viewing like they would cineplex premieres.
“We’re really excited. In a very strange way, this helps our business a number of ways. It’s educating the consumer on how to watch media and entertainment at home more than they ever have. If you have good product, it tends to perform well,” Bromiley said.
Perhaps most intriguing about the success of “The Silencing” is that film falls under an exclusive pact Saban has with DirecTV, where the movie played for an exclusive 30-day run before moving down to the rental window. This did not deter downstream revenue, Bromiley said, but helped eventize the film. The distributor also saved big on forgoing a theatrical marketing spend, which traditionally gets recouped from box office earnings.
For the typical Saban Films release, Bromiley admitted that “Theatrical is really important in driving press, publicity, placement and reception of film for us and the filmmakers. We’re sensitive to that, but what we’re found out of the last six months is that you can kind of replicate that in the home. You can create enough hype and publicity. For a while we had the number one movie on Netflix, we just hit number one on iTunes, we’ve had some huge successes on Amazon Prime.”
The Netflix project he refers to is “John Henry,” the Terry Crews gang romp that captivated social media and dominated the streaming giant despite competition from Netflix originals like the Christina Applegate series “Dead to Me” and the Chris Hemsworth juggernaut “Extraction.” The studio also saw solid viewership with the Imogen Poots potboiler “Vivarium” and the campy horror film “We Summon the Darkness” with Alexandra Daddario.
Bromiley does not anticipate the death of the theatrical business anytime soon, but says this increased awareness around digital content “will be an added component to whatever this looks like in the future.” The performance of “Silencing” has also inspired Saban to take more risks.
“We’re going to use what we’ve learned over the past months and apply that to taking chances on some films that maybe we wouldn’t have before. What I mean by that is, we’re typically a more cast-driven distributor. We might take more chances on things with less focus on cast, but high quality. Those are clearly finding homes,” he says.
Upcoming Saban Films release include Dennis Dugan’s “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” starring Diane Keaton, Jeremy Irons and Maggie Grace; Jamie Babbit’s “The Stand-In” with Drew Barrymore in a dual lead role; Josh Duhamel’s directorial debut “Buddy Games”; and Nicol Paone’s “Friendsgiving” with Malin Akerman, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, Kat Dennings and Chelsea Peretti.