End of the road, people…end of the road.
The last twelve months have brought us a slew of amazing films that everyone is stumbling over themselves to put on end-of-year lists. The best movies of the year, the worst movies of the year, the movies that were once good but now you should clearly hate, the movies you need to see that you didn’t, the best movies starring vegans, the worst movies starring Republications, and the movies that weren’t really movies at all, but simply really short seasons of television.
But that’s not the story. The real story no one is talking about as we rush into 2020, is about the movies that should have done better at the box office, but were clearly sent packing as a result of a particularly fatal combination, which can be broken down into this handy mathematical equation:
Box Office Failure = Short-sighted Distribution + Bad Marketing + Bad Timing
We don’t mean to be hard on distributors who took a chance on smaller movies and gave said movies their due at the box office. It’s a dream for filmmakers to get their movie playing in movie houses, and sometimes that’s a requirement for distributors to snag a film at festivals. We suspect many of the films we’re going to talk about landed in that category, but the bottom line is this: this is a list of 10 movies that were released in 2019 that distributors shit the bed with. These are movies that should have done more. These are movies that more people should have seen. These are movies that, had the marketing and release timing and a hundred other factors been in their favor…
They would have killed.
So without further adieu, we give you the Top 10 Movies of 2019 That Distributors Shouldn’t Have Shit the Bed With. We hope that if you haven’t seen them, that you do see them, because all of them are available for your to rent or buy on your digital platform/service of choice.
Lords of Chaos (Feb 8 Release by Gunpowder & Sky): A semi-fictionalized account of the early 1990’s Norwegian black metal scene, told from the perspective of Mayhem co-founder Euronymous. This is a compelling, fascinating, entertaining film that was made, then stuck in a never-ending vortex of negotiation with various distributors for months, if not years. The fact that it took so long to get released simply hurt it chances of doing much at the box office, and a distributor who was more concerned with the money they would make on the film in the windows after theatrical release spoke volumes in how they invested in the theatrical window. Final box office: $253,000
Fast Color (Feb 8 Release by Lionsgate): A stirring, unique story of three generations of African American women with superhero-like powers; the Julia Hart-Directed film is the kind of superhero movie people complain they never get to see…which, well…with this Lionsgate release — they never got to see. Dumped onto ten screens in key markets, then quickly moved into the digital window, there were dozens of ways to grass-root the shit out of this movie, which never happened. There is some good news at the end of the road, however, as a TV series is now being developed at Amazon based on the original feature film IP.
Final box office: $76,000
The Hummingbird Project (March 15 Released by The Orchard): A tech-focused drama starring Jesse Eisenberg and Salma Hayek about building the fastest data line to the New York Stock Exchange; it was one part The Big Short meets every frenetic performance Eisenberg has ever given. Yet it was surprisingly soulful with a solid message about simplifying the rat race. But the marketing was confusing, hard to track, and the marketing materials seemed like every other straight-to-VOD movie ever made. Dropping it in March, right after the Oscars, also didn’t do it any favors.
Final box office: $371,000
The Public (April 5 Released by Greenwich/Universal): Emilio Estevez directed this compelling pot-boiler of a drama about a library coming under siege by a city of homeless men and women and the library Director (Estevez) trying to find a way to give those in need a warm place to sleep while dealing with a stand-off with the local police. A great supporting cast including Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jena Malone and Taylor Schilling delivered a solid drama that landed on around 100 screens, but just couldn’t eek out a legitimate number. We suspect Universal simply wanted it for digital which is why they hired Greenwich to do the dirty distribution deed.
Final box office: $573,000
Teen Spirit (April 12 Released by Bleecker Street): This Max Minghella-directed, Elle Fanning-starring pop song of a movie tells the story of a wannabe American Idol-esque young woman living in a small village on the Isle of Wight, who suddenly finds herself a finalist in one of the biggest UK song competitions. This was a bounce-in-your-seat, inspiring and fun story of the underdog, with a music-video feel for Minghella’s directorial debut. We can’t quite figure out why it didn’t do better, although we suspect the younger demographic of teen girls just didn’t hear about it in their social media feeds of choice.
Final box office: $441,000
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Released June 7 by A24): A stirring, soulful, beautiful film released by Indie darling A24. Critics loved it. The major markets embraced it. But when it broke wide across the country, it stalled and A24 focused on their bigger, more awards-worthy films like Uncut Gems. For some distributors, $4.5 million in domestic box office is considered amazing. For A24 and this film, it should have done $20 million. Did they shit the bed in the true sense of the shit? Probably not. But those dark brown stains on the sheets of the film industry could have been avoided — this is a gem that way more people should have seen.
Final box office: $4,500,000
Wild Rose (Released June 21 by Neon): Another foreign-based wannabe singer film, but a stellar one directed by Tom Harper and starring the absolutely compelling Jessie Buckley, about a Scottish woman with dreams of being a Country singer. Despite the hard-to-understand Scottish drawl of many of the main characters (and a subsequent ADR session to clear it up), the film was released against many other huge summer films, even by Indie perspectives, and got sent back to the karaoke bars without much fanfare. An earlier-in-the-year release with a wider berth might have given this amazing film the due it was worth.
Final box office: $1,600,000
Sword of Trust (Released July 12 by IFC Films): Lynn Shelton is a Director you either haven’t heard of, or should have heard of. It’s an almost-all improv’d film about a pawnshop owner and his man-child employee as they team up with an out of town couple to hawk a Civil War-era sword. Starring Marc Maron, Michaela Watkins and the great Jillian Bell, it’s a funny, quirky, energetic farce that landed in theaters and on digital so quickly that it made our heads spin. It had the typical festival launch and digital release, but ask ten people on the street if they’ve heard of it and they’ll say no. Which is a shame.
Final box office: $322,000
Brittany Runs a Marathon (Released Aug 23 by Amazon Studios): Jillian Bell stars as an unhealthy (read: overweight) young woman who changes her entire life when she decides to train to run a marathon in New York. It was picked up at Sundance by Amazon Studios for $14 million, then dropped in at the end of the summer in a major theatrical release. Word on the street was that Amazon Studios went back and forth for months about whether it should just go straight to Prime Video versus a theatrical release, and the last minute commitment to a real theatrical (we believe) hurt its chances with ho-hum marketing and a trailer that didn’t showcase any of the funny moments. This is an amazing film, people. It’s hilarious, it’s sweet, it’s adorable. And Bell is a breath of fresh air. For the $10+ million Amazon spent to market the movie, it should have done more.
Final box office: $7,100,000
Corporate Animals (Released Sept 20 by Screen Media): A group of co-workers including Demi Moore get trapped in a cave and end up eating each other to survive. Simple concept. Hilarious execution. Directed by Patrick Brice of The Overnight and Creep fame, it was dumped quickly in a day-and-date release when it could have generated far more awareness playing midnight shows across the country. Maybe. It was a bet that might have been the right one, but the unfortunate outcome is that more people didn’t hear about the film. It ain’t Midsommar but it’s got its own fly by the seat of its pants ludicrousness that is worth checking out.
Final Box Office: $17,000 or $0 depending on who you ask