How many completed, unreleased movies are out there?

In this thread the subject of completed, but unreleased, films was referenced. I was wondering if any film mavens have a notion how many of of these completed, but unreleased works are sitting around that have never seen the light of day.

Lots? Only a few?

You’d think that given the considerable amount of time and money that goes into a movie that there would be some way to get these films released into distribution. What’s holding up release in most cases? I mean the movie is done, holding it back is only likely to damage its prospects. Who would benefit from that, it seems like a complete lose-lose.

If it costs more money to release a film than the film is expected to earn, why release it?

From official big-timey Hollywood studios, probably only a few. Maybe a hundred or two. But outside of that, there’ll be tens of thousands.

Fair point. How much would it cost to convert a film to a digital file? From that point via iTunes or Amazon digital media distribution services, it would seem the cost of distribution is almost trivial.

Depends, if the film is actually shot on film then transferring it won’t be cheap. Pennies to big studios, but most of these movies are from small distributors/studios, or are entirely indie projects that never got released for some reason or another. There are probably thousands of films made on the cheap by some amateurs or students that never managed a distributor and will never see the light of day. Odds are that’s probably a good thing, unreleased films usually stay so for a reason, either they were made and then shelved for reasons of content (e.g. The Day the Clown Cried) or contractual issues, or are truly awful terrible dreck. If someone makes a movie regardless of quality and can’t find a distributor of any caliber it really says something bad about the movie.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of films that never got any serious distributions, and were shown only at festivals (a film I liked a lot – Screen Door Jesus – only seems to have been shown in festivals in a vain attempt to get a distributor).

Even big studios will shelve films when it looks like it’s not worth the money to promote it. Sometimes they are released years later, when the actors involved have a few hits. Also, nowadays you can release a film direct to video with minimal promotion costs.

It’s hard to find a film that was never shown in any public venue, but some, like Matilda only was shown for a few preview audiences before being withdrawn. Matilda was planned to be a summer blockbuster, but it looked so terrible (note the awesome special effects) that they knew they had a disaster.

As RealityChuck states, film festivals have a wealth of films that will otherwise never be seen by anyone else - usually for a very good reason.

I used to review films at the Berlin Film Fest, and for every gem in the rough I would see and praise, there were usually 20 bombs that deservedly never got any distribution. Some would have stars (from the local country) and there was obviously some money spent on production values, but the story sucked or the acting sucked or a combination of both.

One story I like to tell is the time I went to a film from India…screening room filled at the beginning, but as this film went on, the audience started to wander out of the theater. I am diligent and never walked out of a film, hoping there might be some great surprise/worthwhile moment at the end of the film. So, when the film ended, I was the ONLY person in the audience and the film had indeed stunk. As I walked out of the theater, there was the director, producer and a couple of the stars of the film who were all smiling and said, “Well, what did you think of the film?!”
Geez, didn’t they notice the other people fleeing in droves?
I was polite and complimented them on the sound, the lighting, a couple of set designs…pretty much every scrap of good I could dig up. People only hear what they want to hear and they all seemed to think I loved the film, despite not once mentioning the plot sucked and the acting was horrible and the film went on and on and on.

So yes, there are probably millions of films that were never screened except to other friends at film schools or the occasional film festival that is desperate for entries.

Sadly there are other smaller films that were actually quite good, but for various reasons (controversial subject matter, esoteric stories) were never picked up for distribution. It is really expensive to distribute a film, and unless you think you can make money with a wider audience, I can fully understand major distributors taking a pass. The good news is, those producers, directors and actors often get asked to be a part of some new project that might be a bigger, more commercial hit. So even though there are indeed many good, an mostly bad films, unreleased and sitting on some shelf somewhere, it is not necessarily a total waste of time and money for those involved. Ask any famous person in film and I am sure they can list a few movies they are not exactly proud of, nor wish to see distributed to the public today.

There was a great little film with Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon called Freeway that cost $3 million to make and grossed under $300,000 in the theaters. I thought it was quirky and fun, but I doubt Keifer nor Reese rank this high on their film careers. This would be a great example of why many distributors might be gun shy at plunking down money for a film, even if it does have a cast of actors who are not unknown.

I don’t have a number for the original question, but it seems to me that there are WAY too many completed movies that do get released.

I actually saw that movie in the theater when it came out. I remember Mick LaSalle raved about in the San Francisco Chronicle and it was playing in my home town, so I went to it. I thought it was quite good.

There’s apparently a sequel (Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby) but I have not seen it.

Freeway actually did O.K. at film festivals:

It has a significant cult reputation. This isn’t easy to prove, since cult films are by definition ones that aren’t generally recognized. I can only say that I’ve seen it on various lists of cult films.

Oh for the love of Reese, don’t! No one from the original is in it, it’s a convoluted psycho-comedy-drama about two girls on the run from prison.

I’m waiting for A White Thread, A Black Thread, which coulda been Robin Curtis’ breakout role.

I asked her about it once. She looked sad, and now I feel bad about that.

I came across Freeway on HBO one night, started out as a low-budget thriller then, ah, it turns into a dark comedy!

Funniest line in it (and one of the funniest lines ever):
After Reese finds her naked, tied-up & dead grandmother and she screams, *“You killed my grandma!” *Kiefer, thru his gravely, artificial voice box replies, "That’s not all I did to grandma!"

I nearly did a spit-take… :smiley:

I’ve heard it’s the cost of advertising that’s the deal breaker - it can run into the millions.
I just saw Welcome to the Rileys. Though it won awards a film festivals it probably shouldn’t have been released. It cost 10 million to make and only took in $152,857.

Wow, I actually saw this move, and I liked it too. Quirky and fun is a good description. I want to think I watched it on VHS; probably a Blockbuster rental.

IIRC, he also said it with a big shiteating grin.

It was released in theaters because those festivals built up a bunch of possible Oscar buzz.

How many does/did MGM have in the can before their recent financial difficulties? I know the Red Dawn remake was completed two years ago, but has been just sitting since. (IIRC, partially because they didn’t have enough money to distribute it, partially because they decided to go back and replace all the Chinese insignia on the invaders’ stuff to make them North Koreans, apparently so they wouldn’t alienate the Chinese movie market.)

Freeway was a late 90s staple on HBO. They played the shit out of that thing.

Don’t worry-since it stars Chris Hemsworth, it’s pretty much a lock for the “straight-to-DVD” market.