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Where are they? Two recent movies that were not distributed locally, or nationally, as far as I can tell: “Under The Skin,” and “Only Lovers Left Alive.” As you can see, I enjoy sci-fi and vampire films!

The first stars Scarlett Johansson and got good reviews and even some positive mention at various film festivals; Rotten Tomatoes gave it 87%, and even the NYT liked it! The film was in theaters in two Michigan cities, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. The film remains in limited release, took in just $2.5 million, and comes out on disk next week. Guess I expected, given the star power and genre, that “Under The Skin” would have had wide release, along with the attendant trailers and promotion on national television and major print media. Not so.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” also got good reviews, including 85% at Rotten Tomatoes and a nice mention in the Times’ Friday Arts section. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, like Johansson, have been known to sell a few movie tickets. It grossed only $1.8 million and will be on disk Aug. 19.

Wikipedia classifies both movies as “specialty box office.” By the way, both are still being shown in New York.

My question: why were two, generally well-reviewed films featuring major actors and very popular topics – aliens and vampires – just disappearing into the maw. . . . when really poor (and poorly reviewed) movies stay in my local theater for weeks and weeks? I’m sure it has to do with money, but in that light, I thought surely Ms. Johansson’s presence could sell anything.

Thank you, in advance, for any light you can shed on this matter. I’m sure it happens all the time – these just happened to be two films I was looking forward to seeing on the big screen.

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From what I've heard about Under The Skin, it's not really your average movie for the masses. And a Jim Jarmusch movie with Tilda Swinton probably too (though I haven't heard anything about that yet). Of course I'm not saying those movies aren't worth to be shown and seen, but I doubt it is the alien or vampire aspect that doesn't make them sell. Such independent movies are just not made for/seen by the masses and therefore theatres aren't too inclined on screening them (which is probably some kind of vicious circle). That's just how the industry works, unfortunately. –  Napoleon Wilson Jul 10 at 9:47
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@NapoleonWilson.. man, you really need to get into the habit of posting answers instead of comments.. –  John Smith Optional Jul 10 at 10:15
    
Haven't heard of either so far, but just to be sure, those weren't meant to be direct-to-disk releases and those screenings weren't just some premieres? –  Mario Jul 10 at 11:22
    
@JohnSmithOptional But an uninformed 6-line comment grounded entirely on gut feeling that comes without any responsibility for correctness, completeness or formal quality is sooo much easier and faster to write. ;-) –  Napoleon Wilson Jul 10 at 14:59
    
Right now the British film Byzantium is being shown on one of the premium channels here in the US. It's giving me a fix during the dearth of vampire movies. –  CGCampbell Jul 10 at 22:52

1 Answer 1

Firstly, the reason those movies didn't receive as wide a release as others has nothing to do with their respective genres: if we were to say Vampire movies and Alien Movies don't sell, how would we possibly explain the phenomenon's of Twilight and Transformers?

The difference, as you may have noticed, is that the above are part of franchises, and as such will receive a greater marketing push than others. British Film Critic/Historian Mark Kermode has wrote a book about this very thing: in which he claims that franchise cinema is deliberately marketed to starve other pictures of the oxygen of publicity.

With Big Cinema being the new status quo, it is becoming impossible for the kind of movies you mention to find success: not because they aren't 10x better than some of Hollywood's blockbuster output, but because they aren't allowed an opportunity to 'find their legs'.

It is because of this deliberate monopolization of the industry that we have recently seen a number of high profile exodus' from Hollywood, each citing a unwillingness to continue being part of such a system.

But lets look at the specific films you mention, as OLLA is strangely appropriate:


Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer, who is predominantly a music video director during the britpop phase of the 90s but found wider acclaim making advertisements (His Levi's advert is one of the most widely recalled ads ever made, and his Guinness ad frequently tops the polls of best adverts of all time over here) and became an art-house film maker in the process.

Under the Skin is a nearly devoid of dialogue, and almost totally absent of traditional plot. The framing, soundtrack and lighting of the film are deliberately oblique, and most of the film is conducted in ambiguity.

So an art-house director makes an experimental film with a deliberately de-eroticized megastar in the lead, remaining utterly unrecognizable, using hidden camera mixed with hyperstylization... I don't think anyone ever expected this film to do well, no matter how good it is. It did receive a wider release in the UK: but that's probably something to do with the localized setting and our pre-established familiarity with Jonathan Glazer.


Only Lover Left Alive

A vampire film that actually tricked a few people into thinking it might be Twilight-ish (we had to turn a number of young girls away: the film was a 15 Certificate in the UK) but is actually a genre deconstruction of the both cinema's obsession with ageless vampires and the larger oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch himself. The film is an introspection of his career, with Adam being Jarmusch' analogue and Eve personifying his love of cinema.

Jarmusch spoke openly of how he wished to stop making films (a form of 'creative suicide', much like Adam) before-hand, so its almost impossible not to perceive the narrative through that lens once you watch it. Its incredibly slow paced, with ouroboric dialogue and a melancholic soundtrack.

If you were very familiar with Jim Jarmusch's work you can see how interesting this movie really is: but considering most of the population won't really know who he is, it was perceived as a little indulgent and certainly wasn't going to receive a wide release.

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