The Quorum

A film we’re rooting for: SMILE

Back in October 2015 when Netflix released BEASTS OF NO NATION, its very first original film, few would have guessed that streaming platforms would play such a huge part in the motion picture ecosystem. 

Even before lockdown, when Disney+ and Apple TV+ were nascent streaming services, it was clear that the shift from large to small screen was underway. The conventional wisdom was that some films would be produced for theatrical and some for streaming. A porous wall lay between, allowing titles to move from one side to the other as needed. Streaming films that showed promise would shift to theatrical, while theatrical movies that stumbled through production might head over to a vertically integrated streaming platform. 

Out of necessity, the pandemic created a world where theatrical titles moved to streaming or PVOD, but few titles made the opposite journey. Even now, as we have seemingly moved beyond COVID, the journey, when it happens, is away from theatrical. Most recently, Universal pivoted to day-and-date instead of theatrical-only for HONK FOR JESUS SAVE YOUR SOUL and HALLOWEEN ENDS.

That’s what makes SMILE a film worth, well, smiling about.

Written and directed by Parker Finn, SMILE was initially slated to debut on Paramount+, but after solid test screenings, Paramount decided on a theatrical release. What’s more impressive is that the studio is giving the film a highly inventive full-court press marketing push. In other words, this is not a token big screen release. Major strategy is going into the campaign. 

This past weekend, ahead of its Friday opening, maniacally smiling people started showing up in unexpected places, most notably in baseball telecasts across the country and over Al Roker’s shoulder while reporting the weather on “Today.”

Faithful readers of The Quorum know that we are suckers for a creative poster campaign, and Paramount has come through in impressive form. So far, at least six posters have been released for the film, each brilliant in its own way. The infinity smile might be our favorite. 

Compare that to Universal, which has been leaning into one image for the campaign for BROS, this week’s other new release. 

So, how do the numbers look for SMILE? 

Let’s first acknowledge that it’s been tough out there for horror films that aren’t based on well-known IP (HALLOWEEN, A QUIET PLACE) or established filmmakers (NOPE). With the exception of THE BLACK PHONE, recent horror releases have struggled. THE INVITATION opened to $7M, BARBARIAN did a little better with an $11M debut, while PEARL landed at $3M. 

SMILE fares quite well when we compare SMILE to BARBARIAN and PEARL, the two most recent horror releases. At 37% awareness, it is well ahead of the other films, and with a few days to go before release, it could find itself north of 40%. 

It’s a similar story on the interest side. With an interest score of 5.7, SMILE is easily outpacing both BARBARIAN and PEARL. And it is well above the 5.2 average score for all horror films. 

Based on these numbers, SMILE looks to add some box office juice to the genre. And that’s something we should all be rooting for.

This has been a pretty terrible six-week stretch for theatrical. With DON’T WORRY DARLING and THE WOMAN KING landing in the high teens, this could be the first September without a $20M opening since 2001. BROS and SMILE are theatrical’s last chance to reach $20M. Think of the message Paramount would be sending to the industry if the largest opening of the month came from a film that was originally slated for a streaming release. 

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