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The Banshees Of Inisherin, Disney+, and Sell Short Cinemas – Film Stories

The Banshees Of Inisherin, Disney+, and Sell Short Cinemas – Film Stories
The Banshees Of Inisherin, Disney+, and Sell Short Cinemas – Film Stories

Indie cinemas enjoyed the success of the award-winning The Banshees Of Inisherin – until Disney decided to fast-track it to the streaming service.

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Before the pandemic hit in early 2022, the cinema industry was already going through something of an existential crisis. Said dark night of soul was thanks to the inexorable rise of streaming, the cheeky upstart armed with an endless loop menu, autoplay trailers and a clever algorithm.

Not that theaters haven’t had to deal with the threat of home viewing before, but this situation was different, thanks in large part to the fact that the long-cherished theatrical window (the time between a movie opening in theaters and being available at home) was being squeezed even smaller as streamers looked for more exclusive “content” to entice subscribers.

Still, nothing that couldn’t be solved, right? Give it some time to let the choppy water settle and a new landscape will eventually emerge.

Then came the pandemic, and the entire entertainment world was quickly thrown into complete chaos. Slow changes became immediate, and a gradual shift in how people watch movies was pushed into warp speed. And absolutely no one was ready for it.

As a cinema programmer, I’ve previously written on this site about the effects the pandemic has had on the cinema industry, but over the past year it’s become increasingly clear how much panic and complete guesswork has informed decisions about how and when films are released. Long-term strategies are few and far between as new streamers emerge every few weeks, each desperate to gain a foothold before the market is completely saturated.

Nowhere is that lack of long-term thinking more evident than with the recent release of The Banshees Of Inisherin.

From a British perspective, Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-tipped dark comedy opened in cinemas on 21 OctoberSt and was a clear hit with audiences, especially within the independent sector. Here at the Midlands Arts Center in Birmingham, it was our busiest film in months. With awards season underway at the start of 2023, it was a sure bet to run and run, with inevitable nominations helping to bolster an already admirable box office.

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And then it was suddenly thrown onto Disney+ in mid-December, in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to gain subscribers for a streaming service that still isn’t profitable.

The Banshees Of Inisherin (2)

The Banshees Of Inisherin

It’s common knowledge that Disney+ is losing money for the Mouse House and isn’t expected to be profitable for another couple of years, but this is one of those projects that is just “too big to fail”. Disney+ needs to succeed, because what would it look like if the world’s biggest entertainment conglomerate had a failing streaming service? They have ambitions to be number one, and number one they must be. No ifs, no buts.

And then a film that The Banshees Of Inisherin, instead of having time to grow organically and continue to bring audiences into theaters, it’s being released on Disney+ (a service that’s not exactly the first place you’d look for a dark dissection of grief and masculine anger) because they need ‘ contents’. They need it right now. And so all the potential benefits of a theatrical release are thrown aside in favor of sacrificing all films to the streaming wars.

Of course, I have an inherent bias in this debate, and as such will always be on the side of the cinema. But I’m not a zealot demanding that we return to the days of movies that sat in theaters for six months before home release and were only ever shown on 35mm. All industries have to adapt to the times, and I’ve always believed that streaming and cinema can coexist. It’s just that the decisions being made right now are often confusingly short-sighted and often the result of higher-ups panicking about how shareholders might react to the fact that the streaming bubble has burst very high.

In an alternate reality, it was a far better option for The Banshees Of Inisherin in terms of when and where it was released, one that would likely benefit both theater operators and Disney+. Set for a fall release on the back of its positive reception at various festivals around the world, McDonagh’s beautifully realized film would have started as before with a strong opening week, and held its own in the coming weeks as word of mouth brought a steady stream of audiences into cinema until Christmas time.

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Then the first few months of 2023 would have focused on the many BAFTA and Oscar nominations sure to come its way, with marketing now mentioning both its continued run on the big screen and its upcoming release on Disney+. Time the streaming release around March – the month when Banshees is sure to win a few times at the aforementioned Oscars – and its on-demand launch is immediately boosted by the organic publicity that the Oscars bring. A win-win for both cinemas and Disney+.

It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s better than the mess that has unfolded. The decision-makers saw that Banshees wasn’t going to be an instant multi-million dollar hit and overlooked the film’s slow-burning potential in favor of hoping that it might provide some kind of small buck in numbers in the bloody battle for dominance over Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The Banshees Of Inisherin screenshot

No patience, no plan. That’s what we’re seeing a lot of right now. The pressure is on to deliver profit in a market that suddenly turns out to be very difficult to make profitable, and crap is being thrown against walls.

And sometimes said, crap, the wall is completely missing.

Not from everyone, though. Look at the huge success Paramount had with mid-range horror Smile. Originally pegged as a direct-to-streaming release via Paramount+, overwhelmingly positive test screenings saw executives move the film to a theatrical release that—combined with an innovative marketing campaign—resulted in box office sales well over $200 million.

And thus, next to the even more successful ones Top Gun: Maverick, Paramount now had two big hits to use in the battle to entice people to sign up for Paramount+. They’re the rare studio that plays the slow and steady game, and they’re reaping the benefits.

Theatrical releases can add great value to a film. Rather than being let into the floodgates of titles flashing across a menu screen, theatrical screenings lend a sense of import and prestige to any number of films, and then the visibility of those titles is much higher when they’re eventually released to a streaming service .

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It is important to say that this is not a cry for number crunchers and financial analysts to recognize and reflect on the romance and history of an enduring art form. It’s the movie business, after all. It’s just to point out that a theatrical release can still be a very important (and, yes, profitable) part of a film’s life in the public sphere. The race to sit at the top of the streaming pyramid has led to a number of distributors making decisions that simply do not make any sense in the long term.

Think back to the organic success of Todd Phillips’ all-conquering origin story Joker in 2019. Here was a film that was shown for several months in cinemas, and received huge audience numbers to the point where it passed the billion mark, a feat no one had seen coming. If that movie was released now, you wonder if Warner would just give it a few weeks in theaters before releasing it live on HBO Max.

Maybe we will get the answer when the sequel Joker: Folie à Deux will be published in 2024. Will long-term strategies be in place by then, will lessons have been learned? Or will the multimedia behemoths still make hasty decisions, hoping that something sticks in the end?

A famous proverb declares that “man plans and God laughs”. Maybe true, but sometimes a little planning goes a long way.

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