Cinema's obituary has been rewritten many times. In the 1950s, as television sets became more affordable and I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners became pop culture staples, movie moguls fretted that they'd lost the hearts and pocketbooks of the American public. In response, the big screens offered up Ben Hur, On the Waterfront and Around the World in 80 Days.
In the 1970s, HBO and video playback machines threatened the industry but movies got bigger still: Jaws, Star Wars, Out of Africa. With few exceptions, each year more money pours through the box office. Releases in 2010 grossed more than $10 billion. Movies have been recession-proof and even depression-proof. The question for 2011 might be: Are they VOD-proof? VOD is video on demand, and the best example of whether this system works will open in Boise on Friday, Jan. 7.
All Good Things stars Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. It's a better-than-average crime thriller, loosely based on one of the most notorious unsolved murders in New York history. But it may ultimately be remembered as a movie that opened in theaters weeks after being offered on the home screen.
Other art-house films have been previously shown on VOD, but none have had a higher profile. According to the New York Times, All Good Things "performed in spectacular fashion on VOD, selling over $4 million in rentals priced at about $10.99."
Most directors have resisted VOD to date, but Andrew Jarecki gave the OK for his film to be released to the home market because, "the power of having your movie seen so widely is extraordinary."
Of course, it helps that All Good Things is a pretty good movie. It's a "rich boy-poor girl" love story that devolves into corruption, murder and very deep, dark secrets. Gosling continues to build on his Oscar-nominated career with a nuanced performance, and Dunst leaves her days as Spider-Man's girlfriend behind with a new maturity. Frank Langella, Kristen Wiig and Phillip Baker Hall co-star.
Adding its initial VOD offering to its select showing in a couple dozen theaters, All Good Things has already recouped almost half its $20 million budget and as a result may set the pace for a new economic model to showcase more art house films. All Good Things is a good thing, artistically and fiscally.