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The Longest Wait: The Difference Between European and American Release Dates…

I have to confess, part of me is a little disappointed that we are slowly phasing out of blockbuster season and into the traditional Oscar season. Not because I prefer the films in one to the other, of course, but because it means that apparently my entire continent is going to drop off the radar for a few months. As the major studios in the United States scramble to get their best Oscar shots released in Los Angeles (and, often, the rest of the country) by the end of the year, it seems that they forget about the rest of the world. While the release of the summer blockbusters have gotten just a bit more synchronised, there’s still a sense that the release of the prestige pieces over here remains an afterthought.

Let’s deal with this fur once and fur all…

I should concede that things appear to be slowly getting better. In a bid to combat piracy, and in an acknowledgement that the international box office is increasingly important to a movie’s box office success, it seems that the release of the bigger films of the year have become somewhat synchronised. The Dark Knight Rises opened over here nearly simultaneously, with the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield even hosting a 5am screening to synchronise with midnight screenings on the East Coast. John Carter also opened on the same day, as did The Expendables 2.

Sometimes, it seems, foreign markets even get a bit of a heads-up. We’ve been lucky enough to get early openings of several of Marvel’s comic book blockbusters over the past three or four years. Iron Man 2, Thor and even The Avengersall opened a week early over here, allowing us something of a sneak peak before our American cousins. I won’t lie, there was a bit of a giddy thrill about seeing those movies first. Even seeing them at the same time felt pretty good.

This reasoning is for the birds…

However, it seems like blockbusters are really the only genre where a synchronicity is developing. Comedies still see a considerable delay between the American release and the inevitable European follow-up. It was months before we Europeans got a chance to see Ted, which was making quite a splash at the American box office. There are several smaller movies that slip through the net, and end up not even getting a theatrical release over here.

For example, I worry that Compliance might be too small to get a cinematic release in Ireland. It’s a fascinating low-budget movie based around fairly disturbing real events, and it’s getting quite the reaction from people I know who have seen it. It seems a massive shame that the movie might slip through the cracks in an Irish release schedule, which feels like a bit of a shame. It is, of course, by no means the only movie that will experience this phenomenon, but it’s still a sorry state of affairs.

A rogue release?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are market realities that dictate these opening schedules. This summer, for example, the Olympics were a major concern for cinema scheduling, especially in Europe. I believe that’s why the release date of The Bourne Legacy may have been shifted back by three days. Traditionally, a few few blockbusters open early here to avoid competition with the World Cup. Movies like Brave get shifted around to take advantage of school holidays to maximise returns. These are fairly obvious business decisions that make a great deal of sense.

However, I just can’t help but regret the fact that so much of the year’s “Oscar bait” is generally pushed back into the New Year over here, while it gets a November or December release in the States. For example, this year, Django Unchained will open on Christmas Day in the States, but won’t open over here until the middle of January. In this era of instant communication and discussion, it feels a bit strange to so forcefully stagger the releases.

It’ll take a Brave studio to defy these conventions…

There is something great about being able to enjoy a shared and communal experience of movies – to join a conversation at the same time as everybody else who has seen a movie for the first time. Seeing a movie later feels like it’s playing catch-up. It feels like your opinion is responding to – either agreeing or disagreeing – with a consensus that solidified long ago. It seems hard to believe that you could really have anything especially original to contribute to a discussion or a debate on a particular film. After all, by that point, it’s all been picked over to death.

The wonderful thing about the internet is that it makes all of this discussion and debate possible, in real time. It means that I can read the opinions of American writers on films the moment they are released, and vice versa. The shifting of blockbusters towards a global same-day release to avoid piracy acknowledges this rather rapid rate of modern communication. However, the fact that such scheduling is apparently restricted to blockbusters suggests that the studios may have missed the point. The web is accessible all around the world, and it means that I will be witnessing the debates and discussions about Django Unchaineda month before I have the chance to see it for myself.

It seems like some of these release dates are picked by round-house kicking a dagger at a calendar…

Of course, the rather cynical response is simply to cut myself off from all communication and to ignore all that discussion of a film I won’t see. It’s a good idea in theory, but it seems a little mean-spirited. After all, the whole point of these films is that they generate discussion and debate – at least compared to what many would argue are the “brainless” blockbusters. Staggering the release of these seemingly thought-provoking films would seem to belie that description. After all, surely they should encourage discussion and dissection before a critical or popular consensus has been allowed to form?

Ah well. This all sounds like whining because I might have to wait to see movies I am looking forward to. I acknowledge that, and I admit it. I just think that – in this increasingly globalised age of instant communication – that staggered release dates are a relic of a time that has all but disappeared into memory.

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11 Responses

  1. We Americans felt a bit of your pain this year as one by one the big blockbusters were released in Europe first, so we were hearing all the reviews and raves (or otherwise) of these movies a week or sometimes a month before we got to see them for ourselves. The attitude seemed to be, “They’re American movies, so America needs to see them first!” Ultimately, the studios are going to do what’s in their best interest financially (or what is perceived to be, at the very least), even if that means screwing over a certain amount of its audience.

    • Fair point!

      And, to be fair, we are benefitting a bit from the reverse of this this year. Still, I can’t help but feel like it would be better if we could all discuss and talk about these big films (“event” films) at the same time. But you’re right – the studios presumably have some idea of what they’re doing and they control the distribution. One must assume there is logic in their method.

  2. Im wondering for years why nobody talked about these delayed releases in EU! Especially oscar rls are often way too late…

  3. I recently tried to get the bottom of this whole Avengers getting released in the UK earlier than the States thing. It’s absolute madness. I don’t want films to come over here earlier, I wish we could get them all at the same time! But I guess the printing and distribution costs would be greater but it would really help combat piracy so I hope this is where it’s heading!

    • Hopefully. I think that it’s also summer scheduling – we Europeans are more likely to worry about the World Cup and the Olympics than the Americans, I believe. I know that The Bourne Legacy was moved from Friday to Monday so it would miss the closing ceremonies in London. And I think school holidays played a role with the scheduling of Disney films like The Avengers or Alice.

  4. I don’t think it’s just a problem with films. It really annoys me that I would have to wait to see many American TV shows, if they’re even shown over here at all. And more often than not, they’re pushed to channels that people rarely watch and more often than not, slip by. I have noticed some shows trying to change this, like films, but it is frustrating that Doctor Who is now shown over in the USA at the same time when most things get shown here months later. Ah well, at least they didn’t remake it for US audiences.

    • … or make a movie version of it.

      Shudder.

      Although it’s sad, but the US imports are generally the best thing about Irish television. But don’t get me started on that.

      • To be honest, I rarely watch imports here because I catch up with US shows online. Luckily, I’m from the part of Wales where they’ve filmed Torchwood, Gavin & Stacey, Doctor Who and Being Human, so in terms of homegrown stuff I can’t help but feel proud.

        Coming to think of it, I can’t think of any Irish TV shows. Nothing really set in Ireland, either, which is a huge shame. Anything you’d suggest?

      • Sadly, Ireland doesn’t have a booming television industry. We have several home grown channels, but they’re dominated by reality television, foreign imports and banal ideas.

        The best – or most fascinating – shows set in Ireland are made in the UK. Fatehr Ted is the most obvious example, a very “Irish” show in terms of humour and character. I’d consider it to be Irish, given the talent involved, but the money was British. It’s early days, but “Moone Boy” is actually very good as well, but that’s being produced for Sky One. In terms of Irish drama, very little we’ve done since Strumpet City is worth watching. Love/Hate is probably the best of the bunch, and it features a great central performance from Aidan Gillen. That is produced by our national broadcaster.

        (I don’t want to seem too harsh on our national broadcaster, our current affairs run rings around the US channels we get on Sky, and are a little better than the BBC/ITV stuff. Our factual documentary stuff is also well-above average, but it doesn’t necessarily translate well. Reeling in the Years, a year-by-year study of Ireland as a nation using archive footage and contemporary sounds, is the best history programme in the world. Though I’m obviously biased.)

      • I know what you mean about being biased. I loved The Story of Wales, but I don’t know if maybe it was just because it was a more indepth view of the country I love so much. I wanted some of my English mates to watch it, just to see if it translated as well to them.
        I loved Father Ted, brilliant humour in it that I don’t think we tend to see much anymore. I’ll have to check out Moone Boy, I keep seeing it advertised but haven’t caught an episode yet. Cheers for the suggestions!

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