Film flops flourish on DVD, VHS
A new life on video
By Meriah Doty
(CNN) -- Have you ever waited until a movie reached DVD or video because you were embarrassed to be seen watching it in the theater?
Was it the big-budget, sci-fi, box office flop "Battlefield Earth" (2000) starring John Travolta? Or was it race-car action film "Driven" (2001) with Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds?
Those movies and many others can get more attention on DVD and video because of "the curiosity factor," says BET.com senior entertainment producer James Hill. "It's like porn. Actually going to see it in a theater invites too many eyes -- it's like a public admission that you like something everyone else says is bad."
Or maybe you heard good things about a film, but didn't have time to see it in the theater. Or, perhaps, you just didn't want to shell out nine bucks at the time, and the film went away before it had a chance to become successful.
Regardless of the situation, weak box office returns are not necessarily a film's death sentence anymore. Films that failed to come close to the $100 million mark in theaters can sometimes catch their second wind in DVD and video sales and rentals. Comedies "Office Space" (1999) and Ice Cube's "Friday" are examples of second-wind flicks.
"Films offered in limited release and only marginally promoted, and films with dark or heady messages that studios think audiences can't handle" are other examples of rental films that can hit it big the second time around, says Jim Farrelly, director of the film minor program at the University of Dayton.
Or guilty pleasures, such as "Battlefield Earth," "Driven," and "Steven Seagal's kickboxing films," says market analyst and Alexander and Associates president Bob Alexander.
Studios count on these second chances. VHS and DVD rental and retail count for the largest percentage of a studio's revenues, according to Randy Hargrove at Blockbuster's corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
"Renting a movie is less a commitment than going out to a movie," Hargrove says.
Video and DVD rentals and sales are "a deciding factor when it comes to making sequels," says Pat Moran, an analyst at Alexander and Associates in New York City. He says studio heads would have never been interested in making "Shanghai Knights" (2003) with Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan if "Shanghai Noon" (2000) had not caught their attention with cash made from video and DVD sales and rentals.
Similarly, 1989's "Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!" would never have emerged from the "dark side" if 1983's first "Eddie" flick had not done so well on video, observes Keith Simanton, managing editor at IMDb.com, adding that the "Eddie" sequel may have been the first major second-wind movie.
Even blockbusters can arise from video success. "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" did reasonably well at the box office in 1997 but made a killing when it became available to rent, prompting two increasingly successful sequels.
A big renter from 2002 worth noting is "Monster's Ball." Moran argues Halle Berry's Oscar probably prompted interest in the film, since "Ball" made a mere $22.9 million in initial box office sales. Also, Sean Penn's Oscar nomination for "I Am Sam" (2001) boosted interest in that film when it became available to rent.
Moran says horror movies typically do better the second time around, which explains the success of 2002 renters "Thirteen Ghosts" and "Jeepers Creepers."
Horror film "Stir of Echoes" (1999), with Kevin Bacon, and the thriller "Don't Say a Word" (2001), starring Michael Douglas, also did exceptionally well on video and DVD, according to Hargrove.
When it comes to video and DVD releases, Moran says, "word of mouth has a stronger presence than it does at the box office because videos are out longer than films are, typically." If people praise a movie they saw three months ago on video, their friends can still go out and rent it, Moran says.
The home entertainment pie
But renters should beware -- second-wind movies are not always easily available. "Second-wind movies are usually underbought [by video stores] and hard to rent. That alone makes them desirable," Farrelly says.
Even though several factors play into the success of a second-wind movie, Hargrove says, "In 2002, the American public watched more pre-packaged movies at home than ever before. ... The home entertainment pie is growing."
Experts also say the future of second-wind movies is in DVD sales. "DVDs have new material, they offer insight and 'insider' information and they allow access to the proverbial 'favorite scenes' without excessive remote manipulation," Farrelly says.
Hill adds, "With outlets competing with increasingly lower prices for DVDs, it's probable that people will be buying second-wind DVDs they've never seen instead of renting them."