Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bursting a Bubble?

It looks like the folks who thought it was a very bad idea for Steven Soderbergh and 2929 Entertainment to release their new low-budget indie film Bubble simultaneously on cable, DVD (that will actually be out Tuesday), and theatrically may be smugly enjoying a bit of I-told-you-so today. Released admittedly very conservatively on only 32 screens, Bubble's weekend take was around 70 grand, for a per-screen average of $2,208. That would put it on the lower end of per-screen averages for the weekend's top ten; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, now in its 8th weekend, had a per-screen of around $2,076.

By contrast, a couple of other platform release indie movies this weekend totally popped Bubble (cute, huh? — I could write for Hollywood Reporter with quips like that!). Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story owned Soderbergh on a mere three screens with a per-screen of $20,295, while Lars von Trier's Manderlay racked up a $7,558 average on only two screens. Considering that Soderbergh is an Oscar winner, and that Bubble has gotten wider mass-media coverage mainly due to its risky release strategy, this performance could be considered a big disappointment. The devoted art-house crowd had two other movies it preferred to see, and the mass audience who flocked to Soderbergh films like Ocean's [Insert Number] and Erin Brockovich stayed home. Maybe they were just a little creeped out by that baby-head trailer.

It also seems a vindication of the idea that, while audiences seem to bitch more and more about the unpleasantness and expense of theater-going, that window between theatrical and DVD releases still matters in giving a release legitimacy. I don't have any figures on Bubble's HDNet viewership or DVD pre-orders yet. But it would seem the lesson of this weekend is that theaters still matter, but if audiences can see your movie by staying home, they will.

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