Would you still go see a movie you were looking forward to seeing in theaters if you knew the film would be released on disc only three months later? This is the question keeping exhibitors up late at night with visions of bankruptcy dancing in their heads. When Disney announced that it would bring Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
home on DVD and Blu-ray a short three months after it opened in theaters instead of the customary four months, exhibitors all across Europe threatened to keep the movie out of their theaters. The motivation for studios to do this is that they can capitalize on their theatrical marketing campaigns and save money instead of cooking up a new campaign for disc after the movie has faded from theaters. Disney and European exhibitors eventually worked out a deal and Alice in Wonderland
is indeed playing in Europe, but not before the world was alerted that the fantastical film would be coming home on disc in three months, which is exactly what theater owners didn’t want you to know.
So what happened? Alice in Wonderland had the biggest non-sequel opening of all time and to date has grossed over $568 million worldwide (and is still climbing). Disney certainly made a strong case that people will still go see a movie in theaters even if they know the disc is right around the corner, but Alice in Wonderland’s success doesn’t mean the case is closed. For one thing, a considerable chunk of that gross is coming from 3D presentations, which cost extra. Perhaps people will pay to see a movie in 3D at a theater because they can’t yet replicate that experience at home (3D HDTVs and Blu-ray players are hitting the market now, but they are expensive and there are no 3D Blu-rays available just yet). Another factor is that Alice in Wonderland, which features the golden combination of director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, was a hotly anticipated film. Would audiences flock to see, say, Saw VII or some modest indie film if they knew they could rent it in three months? Studios will have to experiment more to answer that question but, for now, Alice in Wonderland might be looked back upon as the film that started a new revolution in home video.