Predicting box office success or failure: How Roadshow failed the Cabin In The Woods test

cabin in the woodsThe local release of Cabin In The Woods on only two screens leads Enzo Tedeschi to ask why audiences are being ignored.

The producer in me knows the value of a film is in its audience. Without an audience, there is no revenue, and with no revenue no profit, which makes it a damn sight harder to get another go-around on the carousel.

It therefore puzzles me when I see decisions being made by filmmakers or distributors which seem at odds with finding their audience, or giving it what it wants. The most recent example, Roadshow’s decision to not release Joss Whedon’s film Cabin In The Woods into Australian cinemas.

After premiering as one of the buzziest films at this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, reviews have been mixed for the film, but two things seem certain – Aussie punters want to see it in cinemas, and Roadshow planned to release it directly to DVD.

Let’s examine the box-office worthiness of Cabin In The Woods: the film is co-written by Joss Whedon, who aside from having possibly the biggest geek-cred quotient on earth, also wrote and directed The Avengers which is smashing Australian box office records. Like The Avengers, Cabin In The Woods stars Chris Hemsworth who happens to be Australian. It seems like a compelling enough case to warrant a decent chance at Aussie cinemas, but not according to Roadshow. After an initial planned theatrical release, they announced the film would head straight for the rental racks, offering no reason.

Australian fans turned to the internet to express their disappointment. Roadshow’s Facebook page sprang to life with posts and messages from more than 1000 fans. A few days later Roadshow caved, and announced Cabin In The Woods would screen in Aussie cinemas. Both of them. One in Sydney, one in Melbourne. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this passionate response suggest a better chance at the box office than so many films that make it to the big screen? Roadshow must know something about this audience that we do not.

Enzo Tedeschi is a co-founder of Distracted Media, producers of The Tunnel.

This piece first appeared in Encore magazine. Subscribe to the print edition here or download the iPad edition here.

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  1. Mel
    29 Jun 12
    4:07 pm

  2. agree wholeheartedly that not releasing the film wider is puzzling, but my comment is to ask: where is it screening in Sydney? I’d love to see it!

  3. Colin Delaney
    29 Jun 12
    4:09 pm

  4. Hi Mel

    Catch it tonight at the Chauvel, Paddington, 9:45pm

  5. GlenH
    29 Jun 12
    4:25 pm

  6. It’s also screening at Palace Barracks in QLD, Nova Eastend in SA, and Luna Leederville in WA.

  7. Colette
    29 Jun 12
    7:39 pm

  8. What baffles me as well is that mainstream cinemas seem to be clogged up with re-released films in ‘all-wonderful’ 3-D while this title, & who knows how many more, don’t even get a chance. Am I missing something?

  9. Maria
    29 Jun 12
    8:45 pm

  10. I’ve seen this film and it’s great. What’s annoyed me however is that because of it’s exclusivity it has attracted hipster crowds who have convinced themselves the content is esoteric. It’s obvious the film was made for mainstream audiences. There are no scenes where you need to think twice and the action, blood and gore is horrific in a fun kind of way. I agree that this film would have been very popular in the AUS box office.
    By releasing this film into select cinemas Roadshow has cut it off from a huge audience. It’s so fun and entertaining it would have attracted the many people who rock up to the movies with no expectation other than being entertained for a few hours.

  11. mumbrella
    1 Jul 12
    10:13 am

  12. I’m so glad your piece inspired me to go and see The Cabin In The Woods last night, Enzo.

    The last time I felt like this about a movie was Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Completely entertaining, and such a brilliant subversion of the genre. I’d have happily gone right back in and seen it again.

    But the marketing challenge is hard, and I wonder if that’s why they decided they couldn’t pull it off here in Australia.

    By explaining too much of the premise in the marketing, you reduce the enjoyment of the film.

    And that’s the dilemma for the marketer. Before going, I watched the trailer online, and in the end regretted doing so as it gave a bit too much information. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I would have gone if I hadn’t watched the trailer…

    The problem for a marketer with a limited release movie is that if they wait for word of mouth, it can come too late so they do need another marketing strategy.

    For what it’s worth though, here’s my contribution to the word of mouth. I implore everyone to see it while it’s still screening rather than wait for DVD.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  13. Enzo
    1 Jul 12
    11:05 am

  14. Tim, I’m glad you thought the film was great. The word of mouth was pretty good from what I saw coming out of SXSW in March where it first screened. And the fact that the filmmakers got up and implored the press and bloggers present to not give away too many spoilers only added to the mystique. That on top of the checklist above – surely some of the marketing was done for them in a way? Part of the puzzlement for me is why are we getting this so late in the piece? Three months is a long time, and long enough for the most fervent of fans to have found other means to have seen the film months ago.

    I’m aiming to head out and catch it tonight!

  15. C.J. Williams
    1 Jul 12
    4:36 pm

  16. Great article, enjoyed reading it.

    One thing struck me as incorrect though, in the article the author mentions the film had mixed reviews.

    A quick search on Rottern Tommatoes shows that it’s at 90% fresh which indicates near universal acclaim for the film.

    Which doesn’t mean I’m taking issue with this article but that it’s even more puzzling Village/Roadshow wouldn’t use that too boost public interest for a wide release.

    Stragne times,

  17. Film Buff
    1 Jul 12
    6:03 pm

  18. Just saw it. Its a bloody travesty that this wasn’t released on a wider scale – what a movie! I’ll be going again.

  19. Shaun Heenan
    1 Jul 12
    10:04 pm

  20. I saw it at the Chauvel in Sydney and it’s one of the best movies of the year. The audience there, however, was basically zero.

  21. mickche
    2 Jul 12
    3:49 am

  22. Agreed, saw it for the second time yesterday, and i absolutely loved it. Not my typical kind of movie, but its wonderfully dark and hugely entertaining. (Edited to avoid spoilers)

  23. Enzo
    2 Jul 12
    7:52 am

  24. CJ, I had heard some negative reviews in the early days when it had screened at South By Southwest. It seems the internet reviews have now been taken over by more positive takes, which is probably a good thing. As you say, all the more puzzling?!

  25. JennaFelicity
    2 Jul 12
    10:43 am

  26. Movie stuff aside, the poster is fantastic.

  27. Kate
    2 Jul 12
    10:57 am

  28. I saw this movie at Nova in Adelaide’s East End, and was puzzled as to why it was only shown at one cinema in Adelaide. It would have been perfect for a mainstream audience.

    Classic American horror film with a clever (but not too clever) twist. Funny bits, gory bits, and Chris Hemsworth. One of those date night movies that doesn’t challenge the viewer after they have left the cinema.

    Making it an exclusive release does tend to put off the mainstream crowds, who question whether it is any good. The mainstream (and not just hipsters) would have loved it.

  29. crizza
    2 Jul 12
    11:04 am

  30. Anything by Joss (Firefly) Whedon is worth a look. But it’s not just here it’s been a problem. It was initially slated for mass release 23 months ago in the US. I believe Whedon’s success with Avengers gave it a push for cinema release.

  31. Claire
    2 Jul 12
    1:12 pm

  32. I saw it on opening night in Melbourne and there wasn’t a space seat in the place. While I’m sure the place included a fair few Whedonites (myself included), I totally agree that this film is fantastic in it’s appeal to both mainstream and niche audiences simultaneously.

  33. Bobby Galinsky
    3 Jul 12
    9:48 am

  34. I originally saw the poster months ago at Jam Factory and thought ‘that looks great’, and then forgot about at as Inever saw a trailer or anything. Ever, My son went, and got me to see it, and I liked it a lot. That having been said, for whatever inexplicable reasons… horror films usually almost always tank in Australia. The boys at Roadshow are pretty cluey, and while nobody ever gets it right all the time, you can look at the numbers. Aussie auds just don’t stack up for horror films no matter how good or bad the flick does in the US. And fanboys and geeks can pack a few cinemas, but the cost of running it wide just doesn’t pay.

    If somebody can figure out the ‘why’ of that… please let us all know.. I’m glad it got a release, and glad I saw it… but would have been just as happy on download or DVD in this case.

  35. Richard Moss
    4 Jul 12
    1:45 pm

  36. In spite of the apparent high support indicated by rotten tomatoes, I can’t help feeling that this film would have had little wide appeal in the cinema.

    It is well crafted in places, but relies upon some clichés, and more generally, upon either a serious lack of intellect or an incredible ability on the part of its audience to suspend disbelief.
    I get the idea that the trailer taps into the vein that feeds the slim hope that things will be absolutely not what the potential audience expects, but it turns up clichés more often than surprises.

    I hardly ever watch this kind of movie, but I watched this one, so that means something.

  37. bob
    6 Jul 12
    4:47 pm

  38. Considering the dross that makes the big screen, its unfathomable that this well made, silly but entertaining film didn’t get wide distribution. Its made for the multiplex audience, WOM would’ve been huge. Could of been another Hangover, Roadshow must have been off sick that week!

  39. Josh
    16 Jul 12
    9:25 am

  40. Another compelling reason for piracy?

  41. Bobby Galinsky
    16 Jul 12
    3:08 pm

  42. Disagree Josh— if you can’t see something at the flicks, buy the DVD or order it from Amazon or get Netflix or whatever. If there’s NO SOURCE to watch it legally than if you get a copy from some market that some boat person put together than fine. You’re not stealing what doesn’t exist to buy.

    I hate the fucking anti-piracy messages on films and stuff because they assume we’re all idiots and it can be annoying. But piracy isn’t about the money, it’s about the lack of respect and just disrespecting the people who wrote the script, raised the money, and made the movies. The only people who avidly pirate are people devoid of talent of their own and think ‘what the hell’—they’re not going to miss a dollar.

  43. vicki
    23 Jul 12
    2:41 pm

  44. I am sick of big Australian distributors making a choice for me about what I’d like to see. Sadly, for Aussie horror movie peeps, this happens all the time. I’ve bought so many great horror films from OS, that are never destined even for a DVD release here. I missed out on ‘Cabin in the Woods’ will most likely pick it up on DVD, but i can’t help thinking is a cynical money grabbing tactic from Roadshow – they know there’s an audience for this stuff, just not for a sustained release, so why not release the DVD at 30 something dollars and make cash that way.

    BTW, The Tunnel is one of my favourite found footage films 😉