5 films released online in 2014 that are better than "The Interview"
Seth Rogen's comedy The Interview has been making headlines all month – despite the fact that it isn't very good. Most recently, the discussion has been due to its untraditional release, both online through a Sony website, YouTube, Google Play, and the Xbox Video Store, as well as in just 331 physical theaters. (Generally a film with "The Interview"'s budget and pedigree would be released in 2,000 to 3,000 theaters). Of course this strategy is one dictated by the massive hacks of Sony's computer networks and the resulting fallout.
Sony still hasn't announced how many people streamed The Interview online in its first few days. But when the company does share this data, it will provide a good snapshot of the state of video on-demand (or VOD), a format some believe will eventually supplant theatrical releases for the vast majority of films. But if you want to get a taste of the year's best cinema that experimented with on-demand releases, don't waste your time with The Interview. Watch these instead:
5. Veronica MarsAfter raising $5.7 million on Kickstarter, the film version of the beloved but cancelled television series "Veronica Mars" made its way to both theaters and digital devices earlier this year. Granted, this film is clearly designed for fans of the show as opposed to newcomers, but for those die-hards it's required viewing.
$$$ Veronica Mars was released on 291 screens and pulled in $3.3 million domestically. As for home purchases, it raised $2.2 million in the first two weeks -- a number The Interview will likely eclipse. There's a big caveat here, however. Initially, Veronica Mars was only released on the Flixster/Ultraviolet service, per the studio's request. The film was eventually added to larger platforms like iTunes and Amazon, but this serves as a lesson to studios -- one that Sony obviously heeded by releasing The Interview on YouTube -- that avoiding the major platforms is a dangerous game.
Critical consensus: 78% positive reviews
Where to watch it now: Buy it on Amazon for $9.99
4. The One I LoveStarring Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed and "The League") and Elizabeth Moss ("Mad Men"), The One I Love is one part romantic comedy and two parts "The Twilight Zone" -- and that's all I should give away about the plot. Unlike many "quirky" rom-coms, this film's quirks develop organically out of the two leads' relationship and rarely feel contrived. In other words, it's good! Watch it!
$$$ The One I Love was actually released on-demand a good deal after its theatrical release, but it bears mention here because the theatrical release was tiny (only 82 theaters) and its VOD receipts far outweighed its box office take. In five weeks, the low-budget film made $737,039 online compared to the $309,000 it made in theaters.
Critical consensus: 80% positive reviews
Where to watch it now: Netflix.
3. FrankWith a phenomenal cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly), and Domhnall Gleeson ("Black Mirror"), the strange music-themed comedy Frank -- like The One I Love -- continued 2014's run of movies that are quirky and charming without being excruciatingly obnoxious. Three weeks after its European release in theaters, Frank became available on iTunes to US customers.
$$$ According to Box Office Mojo, Frank made $645,186 in only 75 theaters. The VOD numbers are are a little harder to come by. Frank was one of the year's few VOD hits that wasn't released by Radius-TWC, a company that is far more open than most about reporting its on-demand receipts.
Critical Consensus: 93% positive reviews
Where to watch it now: Buy in on iTunes for $14.99
2. NymphomaniacLike most Lars Von Trier films, Nymphomaniac, which was released in two parts in theaters and on-demand in March of this year, is imperfect yet unforgettable. Not recommended for family holiday viewing, but for viewers who appreciated ("enjoy" is too strong a word for most Von Trier films) the disturbing arthouse madness conjured by later-period Von Trier films like Dogville and Antichrist, Nymphomaniac is a must.
$$$ I guess international audiences are just more cultured -- or sicker or more pretentious, depending on how you view Lars Von Trier -- than American audiences, helping to boost the combined grosses of Nymphomaniac Parts I and II to $18.4 million. That's a considerable sum considered the film's budget was only $4.7 million. Like Frank, Nymphomaniac was released on-demand by Magnolia which, as far as I can tell, does not release VOD numbers.
Where to watch it now: Both parts, along with director's cuts of each, are available on Netflix.
1. SnowpiercerSnowpiercer isn't just the best movie of the year with a significant VOD release -- it might be my favorite non-documentary movie of the year. (As for documentaries, watch Jodorowsky's Dune, like, right now). A post-apocalyptic action epic that takes place on a transglobal train carrying humanity's only survivors, Snowpiercer is beautiful, bloody, hilarious, and unabashedly strange -- though its weirdness always serves to strengthen the mood of the film and never gets in the way of character or plot.
$$$ Until we hear The Interview's numbers, Snowpiercer appears to be the reigning VOD champion of the year, bringing in $6.5 million on iTunes and other platforms, compared to its $4.5 million domestic gross on only 356 theaters. Granted this isn't quite proof that the VOD market is sustainable: Snowpiercer had a $40 million budget, and the vast majority of its $82 million gross came from traditional theater sales in South Korea, where the film's director Bong Joon-ho is wildly popular.
Critical Consensus: 95%
Where to watch it now: Netflix