If you don’t live in a major market, you won’t have a legal way to see either The Hateful Eight or The Revenant on Christmas Day. I say “legal” because the awards screeners for both movies just leaked online. You can watch both of them right now if you know where to look, but that’s completely illegal. So, um, don’t do that. However, if not for the record-shattering box office behemoth that is The Force Awakens maybe there’d be more screens to go around, and The Weinstein Co. (Hateful Eight) and Fox (Revenant) wouldn’t be retreating. Instead, The Hateful Eight won’t open wide until New Years Day followed a week later by The Revenant.
Just to be clear, these release plans were announced well before The Force Awakens opened to nearly $250 million domestic and just short of $530 million worldwide this weekend. In fact, the plan to initially release The Hateful Eight as an old-style roadshow in 100 select theaters uniquely equipped to display 70 mm film has arguably been the movie’s sole advertising hook beyond the general “It’s another Tarantino movie – you should know what to expect by now.” However, if you haven’t been paying super close attention you might be operating under the assumption that Hateful Eight and Revenant will be viewing options for you over Christmas weekend because isn’t that always when the year’s final big awards movies finally come out?
Actually, that’s exactly what’s happening, just not with Hateful Eight and Revenant. Christmas is already going to be remarkably crowded. Awards-contenders Joy and Concussion finally come out, and The Big Short expands nationwide. Plus, the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg comedy Daddy’s Home and the Point Break remake also debut. They all have to contend with the second weekend of The Force Awakens, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There were still plenty of people who went to see Sisters and Alvin and the Chipmunks this weekend, with both movies earning a little less than $14 million (not great, but not exactly like they were completely buried by The Force). Plus, earlier this year Inside Out more than held its own against Jurassic World . One giant tentpole release doesn’t automatically wipe out everything in its wake, as long as those movies which come out around the same time are ones which people actually want to see (sucks to be you, Point Break).
Still, nothing like this has ever happened before. No movie on the box office scale of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has ever come out in December let alone so close to Christmas. People are too busy with Christmas shopping to be bothered with blockbuster movies at this time of the year, or so the thinking has always gone. It takes a special case for that to happen, such as The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. However, none of those made more than $100 in their opening weekends; The Force Awakens just made more than $200 million.
Hateful Eight and Revenant were right to hold back, even from on a completely practical level considering that both movies demand large-screen formats and The Force Awakens has a Darth Vader/Kylo Ren-esque stranglehold on those screens right now (and probably will for a couple more weeks). However, the decisions made by The Weinstein Co. and Fox might not have been completely Star Wars-influenced. Film distribution is often a comp business. You look for a movie similar to your own to see what they did and how it worked out for them. The Revenant appears to be modeling itself after American Sniper. It will only open in 4 theaters this Christmas just as Sniper did last year, and in that case the ultra-limited rollout not only technically qualified Sniper for the Oscars but also built up such strong word-of-mouth that it grossed nearly $90 million upon expanding wide 3 weeks later. That was actually a model previously attempted to extreme box office success by Lone Survivor.
As for Hateful Eight, Harvey Weinstein, the producer and studio mogul behind the movie, is already on record as believing this year’s awards hopefuls cannibalized each other by bunching up too close to each other, writing in an op-ed for THR, “Every distributor — from the big studios to the little independents — has a horse or three in the race, and almost everyone has lost this year. We’re all going for the same audience, trying to grab the attention of both smart adult film lovers and the awards voters, and because of that no one is able to make a huge impression.”
So, if you’ve seen those amazing Revenant trailers with that bear nearly biting Leonardo DiCaprio’s face off be prepared to wait just a little bit longer. There are already going to be plenty of movies to see in the next week. However, for anyone looking forward to Hateful Eight and/or The Revenant the first two weeks of January just got a lot more interesting.