Restocking the Shelves, Part Four: Maximizing Recent Releases

Deep catalog product isn’t the only part of the studio library fueling home entertainment as theatrical titles are stalled during the pandemic.

Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution, notes that Sony Pictures had a full pipeline of high-profile product when the pandemic hit. “And we’ve been actively promoting those titles to keep them top of mind, as well as releases from the end of last year, like Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” he says.

“Mother’s Day gave us an opportunity to revisit one of our more recent releases, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women,” adds Sony Pictures Home Entertainment senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong. “Our team worked with Hello Sunshine to help launch a brand-new online series called ‘Comedians on Classics’ just in time for the holiday. The content featured rising female comedian Taylor Tomlinson giving a fresh and hilarious take on the beloved Louisa May Alcott story, which resonated with the film’s audience. The video has been viewed over 515,000 times since launch.”

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment is coming up with inventive ways to market films that premiered digitally at premium prices (due to the theaters shutting down) once they become available on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and regular digital channels.

“With captive at-home audiences demonstrating a heightened need for great family entertainment during this time, we recognized a unique opportunity to evolve and elevate our new home entertainment release for Trolls World Tour to fit the tone and tenor of the moment,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “We created a robust Dance Party Edition offering that includes dynamic song and dance elements and all-new character-driven short-form content, we launched TikTok and Zoom-style Trolls music videos, and we adapted other marketing efforts to virtual tactics to remain connected to consumers in real time and further keep Trolls World Tour relevant.”

At Warner Bros., the May release of Scoob! was the studio’s first-ever PVOD and premium digital ownership title. The animated film came to market through “a tremendous joint effort between our theatrical team and home entertainment,” says Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film, for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “When the health crisis hit and the decision was made to release Scoob! in homes, the marketing campaign for the film shifted from theatrical to at-home messaging and we enjoyed a very successful release. International release plans were just announced and it will be a mix of theatrical exhibition in markets where theaters are open, and premium in-home viewing.”

Schell says the film has become Warner Bros.’ No. 1 digital release, ever.  “We recently announced our 4K and Blu-ray release dates for Scoob!,” Schell says, “and we are leveraging the extensive at-home messaging and awareness from the May debut and are drafting heavily on the film’s success to continue strong sales through our physical availability.”

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Three: Seeing Through Windows

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

Bob Bakish

Home entertainment’s success in supporting new releases cut off by theater closings is attracting attention from the studio hierarchy. Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, Paramount Pictures’ parent company, sang the praises of home entertainment during a presentation during the first Credit Suisse Virtual Communication Confab in mid-June. He said home entertainment has helped Paramount justify capital spending on new movies during a year of uncertainty.

“We sold The Lovebirds [to Netflix] early in the COVID-19 window,” he said. “We also accelerated the EST window with Sonic [the Hedgehog], which performed very well for us.”

The movie, starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, grossed more than $300 million at the global box office before the theatrical shutdown.

The executive said the company is monetizing the Paramount library by releasing more than 100 movies via CBS All Access and through the “Sunday Night Movie” on the Paramount Network.

While the theatrical pipeline may be stalled for now, home entertainment executives look forward to its robust return.

Ron Schwartz

Ron Schwartz, the longtime president of worldwide home entertainment at Lionsgate, says the entertainment industry is united in helping the theatrical exhibition business return to full strength quickly.

“We, like everybody else, are eager to see our partners in the theater business open again soon,” he says. “We want to see crowds again flock to theaters, to see tentpoles and art-house films, to buy concessions and to enjoy a tremendous community experience that has made our industry so special for so many years. It’s an important part of our ecosystem, and we’re all looking forward to a safe and productive return to the movie-going experience, which we believe is right around the corner.”

Some challenges lie ahead, Schwartz says: “What will exhibition look like when theaters reopen? What’s going to happen with capacity? We can’t rush back, but we have to make sure we give theaters enough great content so they can re-open quickly, successfully, and thrive.”

The home entertainment side of the business, Schwartz says, will remain catalog-driven until theaters have fully re-opened and the supply of theatrical titles has been completely replenished. “We will continue to work with our retail partners to come up with creative ideas, dig deep into our catalogs, and look for repromotes and anniversaries — any opportunities to engage the consumer,” he says.

Schwartz says he is heartened that during the stay-at-home period, the public’s love of movies, TV shows and other filmed content seemed to intensify.

“The one thing we’ve all seen is a love of content,” he says. “We’re seeing it consumed like never before — physical, streaming, transactional, packages — and it is clearly evident that the public’s appetite to consume our product is not only healthy but still growing. That’s why I remain so bullish about our business.”

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final installment in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’

‘Bad Boys for Life’ Again Tops ‘Watched at Home’ Chart

Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life was once again the movie consumers most watched at home during the week that ended May 2.

The third “Bad Boys” film nabbed the top spot on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart the previous week, after it was made available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

New to the chart — which tracks transactional video activity compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group — is Warner Bros.’ Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, which debuted at No. 17 after its release on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

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Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is the latest film in the “Mortal Kombat” franchise, based on the Midway Games video game series of the same name. It was released directly to home audiences, first through digital retailers (April 15) and then on disc (April 28).

The film finds the Scorpion character seeking revenge on those who murdered his family after being resurrected by Quan Chi, while Liu Kang, Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage are picked to participate on the Mortal Kombat tournament for the fate of Earthrealm.

Paramount Home Entertainment’s Sonic the Hedgehog jumped up two spots, to No. 2 from No. 4 the previous week, on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart after it became available for digital rental. Previously, it had only been available for digital purchase at $19.99 (since March 31). Sonic becomes available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on May 19.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment in Disney’s “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, slipped to No. 3 from No. 2.

Sony Pictures’  Jumanji: The Next Level moved up to No. 4 after three weeks at No. 5, a position now held by Universal Pictures’ The Gentlemen, which slipped from the No. 3 spot the prior week.

  1. Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
  2. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)
  4. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  5. The Gentlemen (STX/Universal, 2019)
  6. Dolittle (Universal)
  7. The Call of the Wild (Disney, 2020)
  8. 1917 (Universal)
  9. Little Women (Sony, 2019)
  10. Birds of Prey (Warner)
  11. Underwater (Fox)
  12. Like a Boss (Paramount)
  13. Bloodshot (Sony, 2020)
  14. The Way Back (Warner)
  15. IP Man 4: The Finale (Well Go)
  16. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  17. Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge (Warner)
  18. Spies in Disguise (Fox)
  19. Frozen II (Disney)
  20. Fantasy Island (Sony, 2020)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended May 2

Little Women (2019)

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $108.10 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for thematic elements and brief smoking.
Stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper.

The latest version of Little Women, masterfully directed and adapted by Greta Gerwig, manages to find the modern sensibilities of Luisa May Alcott’s signature work while retaining all the trappings of its mid-19th century period setting.

Gerwig takes Alcott’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel that was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, and expertly translates the classic tome into the language of cinema, eschewing the linear narrative of the book and previous adaptations in favor of a flashback structure that better contrasts the childhood and adult lives of its characters.

The core of the story remains centered on the lives of the March sisters — Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) — growing up in Massachusetts around the time of the Civil War.

The film is filled with wonderful performances, anchored by Ronan’s confidence as Jo, and Pugh’s radiance as the bright-eyed Amy (both were nominated for Oscars). The exquisite period set design and (Oscar winning) costumes make for a film loaded with delightful visual touches that would make it worth viewing for those reasons alone.

But shifting the narrative back and forth between the two timelines allows Gerwig to focus on how the characters’ adult lives are practically responses to specific events of their childhoods, in a way that no doubt keeps the material fresh even for those who are fans of the novel or have seen the countless other adaptations of it.

Gerwig’s other spin on the material involves layering more elements from Alcott’s real life even more so than the original novel did. Historically, Jo is most often described as the most direct analog for Alcott in the story, as she’s the one who ends up writing about her sisters. And, as such, she remains the primary character of the film. But, according to Gerwig in the Blu-ray bonus materials, all the characters have some element of Alcott in them. In the very good nine-and-a-half-minute “Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art” featurette included with the Blu-ray, Gerwig relates that examining in her lifelong love of the novel in preparing to make the film, she realized that Jo was the hero of her childhood and Alcott is the hero of her adulthood.

Indeed, one of the best elements of the film is an ending that leaves much open to interpretation while honoring what Alcott once said was her original intent for some of the characters.

Gerwig’s script, while faithful to the original dialogue, plays up the artistic interests of its characters, emphasizing the struggles of the creative process, and how artists often face the choice of sacrificing the integrity of their visions for commercial realities (such as when a publisher declares to Jo that a novel with a female protagonist better see her married off by the end. Or dead.)

In crafting a screenplay that spoke to her as a 21st century female filmmaker, she suggests that this new film version becomes somewhat autobiographical for her as well.

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Other featurettes on the Blu-ray include the 13-minute “A New Generation of Little Women,” offering interviews with the cast and several of the filmmakers about the origins of the project, plus the nine-minute “Making a Modern Classic,” about looking at the story with a modern lens. The disc also includes a three-and-a-half-minute “Little Women Behind the Scenes” promotional video, and three minutes of hair and make-up test footage.

The best extra, in addition to the reflections from Gerwig, is undoubtedly “Louisa’s Legacy: Little Women and Orchard House” (labeled as “Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott” in the menu), a 10-minute mini-documentary about Alcott’s real life and family. Hosted by Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (the family home where she wrote Little Women), the video discusses what aspects of the book are based on reality, and the impact of the family’s real-life stories on the film.

The video also details the story of Alcott’s house, an old country home from the mid-1600s that has been rescued from destruction at least three times, most recently in 2002 when the walls were shored up and the foundation completely rebuilt to stop the house from sinking into the ground (the pictures of the house being propped up over a giant hole in the ground is rather striking). The real home ended up serving as the basis of the March house in the film.

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Interestingly, while this is the seventh movie adaptation of Little Women, not to mention numerous television and stage productions of it, not as much attention has been heaped on Alcott’s further adventures of the characters. Little Women was the first of what would end up being a March family trilogy, followed by Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

There have been three movie versions of Little Men, two of which were notably made more than 80 years ago, and a handful of television projects. But to date, there hasn’t been a Jo’s Boys movie — only an obscure 1959 BBC miniseries, as well as part of a Japanese anime television adaptation of the trilogy in the 1980s and ’90s.

Disc Availability Spurs Sales of ‘Dolittle,’ ‘Little Women’ and ‘Cats’

Universal Pictures’ Dolittle shot up to No. 3 from No. 11 on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart for the week ended April 11, spurred by the film becoming available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD the preceding week.

Dolittle, a fantasy comedy adventure film about a veterinarian (played by Robert Downey Jr.) who can communicate with animals, earned $77 million in North American theaters and $223 million worldwide — making it the third-highest-grossing film so far this year, although it was still considered a theatrical underperformer in light of its reported budget of $175 million.

The “Watched at Home” chart tallies transactional video activity compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. The chart measures disc sales, digital purchase (electronic sellthrough, or EST) and digital rental.

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The physical media availability of two other films also led to sales gains. Sony Pictures’ Little Women debuted at No. 7, while Universal’s Cats entered the weekly chart at No. 20.

Little Women, the seventh film adaptation of the classic 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and won for Best Costume Design. The film was released to home audiences after generating a domestic theatrical gross of more than $108 million.

Cats is a musical fantasy film, based on the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, that despite an ensemble cast featuring such big names as British film legend Judi Dench and pop music superstar Taylor Swift only earned $27.2 million in North American theaters.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, was again the most-watched home release. The film shot to No. 1 the prior week, from No. 6, after its release on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD.

Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog also repeated at No. 2 on the “Watched at Home” chart the week ended April 11, solely on the strength of its digital sales.

Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, slipped to No. 4 from No. 3 the prior week. The third “Bad Boys” movie is scheduled to be released on disc on April 21.

Rounding out the top five was another Sony Pictures release, Jumanji: The Next Level, also down a notch from the prior week.

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)
  2. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  3. Dolittle (Universal)
  4. Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
  5. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  6. The Call of the Wild (Disney, 2020)
  7. Little Women (Sony, 2019)
  8. Birds of Prey (Warner)
  9. 1917 (Universal)
  10. Bloodshot (Sony, 2020)
  11. Onward (Disney)
  12. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  13. The Gentlemen (STX/Universal, 2019)
  14. Ford v Ferrari (Fox)
  15. Frozen II (Disney)
  16. Spies in Disguise (Fox)
  17. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony)
  18. The Way Back (Warner)
  19. Like a Boss (Paramount)
  20. Cats (Universal)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended April 11

Sony Releasing 1994 ‘Little Women’ on 4K Digital

Sony Pictures will release 1994’s Little Women on 4K digital with high dynamic range Dec. 3 for its 25th anniversary.

Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon star in the adaptation of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. The cast also includes Gabriel Byrne, Trini Alvarado, Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz and Mary Wickes.

The film has been fully restored in 4K resolution from the original camera negative.

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