All eyes have been on the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg stoner comedy The Interview for well over a month for obvious reasons. Now that the film has finally released and people are starting to pay money to see it, focus is on it in a totally new way – to see if it will be the catalyst to launch us into a digital downloading paradise. While it did manage to bring in a reported $15+ million in online sales across several different platforms, that amount likely isn’t causing big studios to jump off the theater exclusivity bandwagon anytime soon.
For starters, it’s important to remember that The Interview is anything but a typical Hollywood movie – both in terms of how it was marketed and what kind of people saw it. The well-documented story of how the film was pulled from theaters amid threats of violence then shortly thereafter reinstated to select theaters and online distributors is not one I’m here to recant for the hundredth time, but those events play a big part in just why this movie got so much buzz.
Millions of people, most of whom probably would never have watched The Interview otherwise, paid the $6 on a whim to rent it from Google Play, or bought it from other services. Whether they felt it was their “patriotic duty” to see a film that Kim Jong-Un supposedly didn’t want them to see, or countless people only hearing about the movie due to its tremendous pop-culture buzz, The Interview had a much wider audience than it probably would have without all of the hoopla leading up to it. The Sony hacks happened about a month before the film was set to release, right in the heart of what would normally be a films biggest advertising time, and ads were pulled altogether in the week leading up to its release.
So with all that extra hype, and the ease of just being able to buy the film digitally it must have been one of Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg’s highest grossing movies ever, right? Not quite. All told, even if you add in the roughly $1.8 million it made during its opening weekend in theaters, The Interview would still be one of the lowest opening weekends of the duo’s career. Neighbors ($49 million), This is the End ($20 million), Pineapple Express ($23 million), Superbad ($33 million), and Knocked Up ($30 million) all made quite a bit more than The Interview during its opening weekend, and none of them had the added hype of being constantly talked about across all major news networks for two solid weeks.
It is also an absolutely fair point that the film only opened in 331 theaters, when most big films open in two thousand or more. But even its per-theater average of $5,471 isn’t all that impressive, especially considering all the droves of people that had no interest in the movie and saw it just for the odd sense of patriotism.
Another big issue that hurt The Interivew, and is going to hurt any big transition to digital distribution going forward, was piracy. Reports are saying that the film is being pirated at a similar rate that it’s being bought. Again, this is partially due to the extra media hype, but despite movie studios best efforts, they are always going to be losing money to piracy. Considering they can lock a movie in theaters and not have a chance of someone downloading a rental copy and putting it all over torrent sites, they would understandably need a massive influx of cash to bother putting their movies up digitally along with theater releases.
The dream of being able to purchase a movie on a digital platform the same day it’s in theaters for a reasonable price is still alive and well, and for good reason, but it’s still just a dream. At the very least, The Interview and its $15 million earnings online are probably not going to be the thing that launches us into digital nirvana quite yet.