Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is one of our favorite movies of the year. A domestic release was delayed while the filmmaker and The Weinstein Company, who picked up the US distribution rights, battled back and forth about a proposed round of cuts. The result was that the film opened around the world to rave reviews and strong box office returns—the film broke records for tickets sold in Bong’s native South Korea—but not in English-speaking territories. Though the film is now out in the US, and, in our humble opinion, worth every last second that we waited, the number of theaters is still rather limited, and there are tons of people who haven’t been able to see it yet. That’s about to change as Radius, a smaller arm of TWC finally responsible for distributing the film, will release Snowpiercer this Friday, July 11, on Video On Demand, earlier than originally planned.
Snowpiercer hit theaters on June 27, which, if you were paying attention to such things, was the same day that Michael Bay dropped Transformers: Age of Extinction on the world like a ton of bricks. This is a date that the other major studios ran away from screaming, as the giant robots continue to dominate the box office. Bong’s post-apocalyptic joint only opened in a modest eight cities, though it did rake in $162,000 over its opening weekend, strong numbers considering the limited nature of its run.
Over the Independence Day weekend, Snowpiercer opened in 250 new theaters, bringing in just over $1.5 million. This may not sound like much compared to Transformers 4’s numbers, but that’s $3993 per screen, which means that there is in fact a market out there for this film. It has been generating buzz even before it was released in South Korean last August, and while that doesn’t always translate into butts in theater seats, that’s not the case here. There’s also an all-star international cast, headlined by Captain America himself, Chris Evans, and Tilda Swinton, which probably doesn’t hurt in this regard.
Bong and TWC went back and forth for months about cuts that would hack 20-minutes of footage from the final product, though the two sides finally reached an accord that allowed the director’s cut to be released unedited, though in a more limited platform.
Tom Quinn, Radius’ co-president, says, “We at RADiUS, decided early on, to do something completely different with this release… we’re embracing both the benefits of a platform theatrical, but also the merits of going SUPER WIDE by making it available on more ‘screens’ then any movie this summer.”
Most distributors keep their VOD numbers in the shadows, but Radius is not following that pattern. Quinn adds, “Our grosses are a third or less than our overall VOD grosses.” In addition to being one of the best movies of 2014, but if Snowpiercer continues to have success, it could alter the landscape for theatrical and VOD releases.
Snowpiercer is in the near future, where attempts to reverse global warming kick off a new ice age. The only survivors live inside of an endlessly circling train powered by a perpetual motion engine. Inside these thin walls, a rigid caste system develops, with those near the front of the train living a life of comfort and leisure, while the passengers at the tail wallow in their own filth, struggling just to survive. This disparity turns to resentment, which turns to anger, and bubbles over into full-blown violent rebellion.