Roadshow Films' backflip on releasing indie title Cabin in the Woods is the latest in a line of strange marketing decisions.
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7 May 2012 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 7:30 PM

Roadshow Films' about-face on its decision to send Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods directly to DVD has been met with begrudgingly open arms by the blogosphere. But inner-city runs in only Sydney (The Chauvel arthouse venue) and Melbourne (the similarly-programmed Nova) will do the film no favours; for the smart suburban teen audience that would've driven word of mouth, those cinemas rep a long train ride to-&-fro.

And a dirty taste still lingers about why Australia and New Zealand's largest, oldest and most-respected independent exhibition and distribution chain is apparently getting cold feet on titles that have such marketable pedigree. A quick glance at the high-profile titles that Roadshow all but discarded (or was going to discard before vocal backlashes prompted a change-of-heart) paints a worrying picture about its faith in its marketing division:

THE HURT LOCKER (2009):
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow's bomb-disposal wartime drama took home six Oscars, including Best Picture. Only six months prior, Roadshow notified media that the title would be a home video premiere in this territory. A concerted effort by Australia's critic groups coincided with the film's award season momentum, and The Hurt Locker scored a limited release. At that year's Australian International Movie Convention – the annual gathering of both distribution and exhibition sectors, traditionally held on Queensland's Gold Coast amidst much fanfare and buzz-generating razzle-dazzle – Roadshow proudly boasted of The Hurt Locker's domestic box-office takings, which had soared to close to US$6million, making Australia one of the best per-capita return's for the film anywhere in the world.
SBS Film rating: 4.5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes rating – 97%

I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS (2010):
A tough sell because of its graphic homosexual content, but this brazen, brilliant black-comedy/true story gave Jim Carrey arguably the best role of his career, opposite a never-sexier Ewan McGregor, in a film by the team behind the cult-hit Bad Santa. Roadshow followed the lead the film's American mini-distributor Roadside Attractions, burying it in a single cinema engagement, one session per day for a week's run. Europeans made it a brilliantly-marketed arthouse crossover hit (UK- US$3.5 milion; France – US$3 million; Italy – US$2.8 million); its screening at the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival was one of the events highlights. Yet the film dribbled in and out of cinemas over a year later (and dealt similar disrespect on its blink-&-miss-it home video release).
SBS Film rating: 4.5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes rating – 71%

50/50 (2011):
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first film after Inception; Seth Rogan back in the lovable comedic buddy-role that made him a star; Anna Kendrick off an Oscar nomination for Up In The Air; a rare big-screen appearance for Angelica Houston; The Help's Bryce Dallas Howard bitching it up again; ultra-cool indy director Jonathan Levine, the man behind cult-hit The Wackness; winner of The National Board of Review and Independent Spirit awards for Best Screenplay. But it's box office was low in the US, and it's about cancer. One of the year's most acclaimed films gets bumped around Roadshow's release schedule for six months and then opens only at Melbourne's Nova cinema.
SBS Film rating: 4 stars
Rotten Tomatoes rating – 93%

HAYWIRE (2012):
Granted, the US box-office for Steven Soderbergh's action thriller was sub-par (US$20 million), but surely the heads of Roadshow's marketing team could re-invent the wheel to sell the director of the Ocean's film and recent hit Contagion in an action-filled spy thriller starring Ewan McGregor, Antonia Banderas, Michael Douglas, Matthieu Kassovitz, Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender, all facing off against the very marketable pro-fighter Gina Carano. The result – one session, a dozen cinemas nationwide, for one week.
SBS Film rating: 4 stars
Rotten Tomatoes rating – 80%

Claims that it's a tougher sell if the film dies in the US seem spurious. Roadshow got Conan the Barbarian out there, despite it stinking up its late-summer slot in the US; mega-dud J. Edgar saw a relatively wide release in Australia; the crassly US-centric Act of Valour is taking up screens as we speak – but it did open well States-side! Cabin in the Woods (peaking at 90% on the Rotten Tomatoes site) did solid business in the US (US$40 million; an extra US$17 million to date in other markets), but horror is a tough sell in foreign territories. Most recently, The Devil Inside did close to US$54 million at home (despite dire reviews) but offered meagre returns offshore; the M.Night Shyamalan-produced Devil did US$34million in 2010 but didn't travel. But countering such a concern must surely be the starring role Aussie Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor, has in The Cabin in the Woods, and the midas touch of The Avenger's maestro Joss Whedon, on board as producer.

We approached Roadshow senior management for a comment but, politely and respectfully, no one would go on record about the release strategy or the fate of individual titles. The general response was that each film is judged on its own marketable merits for the Australian and New Zealand territory.

The Cabin in the Woods backflip hasn't impressed many webheads. From Roadshow's own Tumblr page came these views: “Seriously? What about Perth! A release at Luna would be perfect. Totally lame.”; “We continue to rightly be baffled as to why Cabin is not more widely accessible at the very least.”; “I'm starting to feel bad every time I see your logo in front of a film.”; “Are there only two cities that matter in Australia now? You wonder why people download stuff.”

It is a dangerous time to be sending films with a high want-to-see factor straight into patron's living rooms. Flushed with the success of Red Dog and The Hunger Games, Roadshow would be ill-advised to sit back and penny-pinch. Hiccupping the film-going cycle of tech-savvy 10-25 year-olds – The Cabin in the Woods core audience – will reinforce their hardening belief that a trip to the movies is only one of several ways to see a new film.