Movies with "name" casts that didn't get wide releases

Picked up Lonely Hearts at the library the other day. The box made it sound okay and the cast was good: John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, Laura Dern. And, in fact, the movie was completely watchable, though not the best freakin’ modern noir I’ve ever seen.

Oddly enough, though, given the cast, I’d never heard of this movie. I read Entertainment Weekly, well, weekly, so although there are plenty more movies that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, I’ve at least heard of the Big Releases and a slew of the minor releases and indies. (Probably 90% of the movies I do see in a theater I see at one or another of the local indie houses – one of the benefits of living in a major city, fer sher.) Thus I’m no better than a second-tier film buff, perhaps third-tier.

Anyway, never even heard of it, so today I checked IMDb for release info. Looks like, for the US, there were two film festival showings in spring of 2006 and a third that fall, then a “limited release” spring of '07.

So – question 1, why no wider release? and question 2, for the true film buff: can you think of other examples of films with a full slate of “name” actors that never got a wide release?

twickster, it could be that the description at Lonely Hearts (2006) mentions The Honeymoon Killers (1970), but I have this strange feeling I have seen that movie! It would definitely have been on TV since I wouldn’t have gone to a theater for it, and it’s not my type of Netflix thing either.

Weird. No idea why no better exposure for it. I’m a Gandolfini fan, not to mention Salma, so I’m sure if I had the chance I would have seen it.

As for others like it, I’ll be scratching my head.

Seems like the studio thought it was not a very good movie, that would explain the limited release. The really bad movies get no theater release at all, they go direct to DVD.

Yes, I understand that, which is why I stated that I found the movie perfectly watchable. Most direct-to-DVD films, it’s clear why they went direct to DVD.

I seem to remember reading about a movie like this, recently. If I remember correctly, it was a disaster spoof done in the style of, and made shortly after, Airplane! I’d certainly heard of several of the actors, but it got no release, or a very limited one at festivals. I think it was finally about to come out on video, but I’ll be damned if I can track it down now.

I like what Stan Freberg used to say about his records; they weren’t released, they escaped.

Lonely Hearts was way better than I expected; it wore a “recommended” tag for a while in my store.

Generally, though, when I open a box from our distributor and find a movie I’ve never heard of with big names in it, it’s not a good sign: someone decided to dump it without throwing any good marketing money after bad production money. Still, an exception sometimes squeaks through.

To answer the OP, though, yes there are lots of such movies dumped straight to video. (And yes I know technically some of these movies were thrown at a festival screen or two, but didn’t stick. “Straight to video,” as far as my usage is concerned, does not mean that I have exhaustively tracked down every possible bit of evidence to prove the movie was never screened at a movie theater; it means that when it came out on DVD no one had ever heard of it.)

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang should have done better than it did. Granted, Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer weren’t at the top of their career at the time, but it was a funny movie with name stars that only grossed about 4 million dollars.

Name names! What are some of the titles/stars? Are any of them worth watching, of only for rabid fans of a particular actor?

Natasha Richarson’s death reminded me of her (fairly) recent movie The White Countess. It starred Richardson, Ralph Feinnes, Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave, and it was the last Merchant/Ivory film before Ismail Merchant died. You’d think it would have at least done well on the arthouse circuit and gotten some awards attention, if only for costumes, art direction and cinematography, but yet it never played in more than 67 theaters, made under $5 million dollars, most of that overseas, and it didn’t get nominated for anything other than a couple of minor Satellite Awards. It’s such a shame. It deserved better. I’m glad I’m one of the few who saw it in the theater. I’m glad I live somewhere where it DID play in the theater.

Along the same lines, though it did better business, the gorgeous 2006 film The Painted Veil (based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham) only made $26,809,273, $8 million of that in the US. It starred Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Leiv Schreiber, Toby Jones, Diana Rigg and Sally Hawkins (unknown then, but now known for Happy Go Lucky). It’s absolutely breathtaking to look at, besides having an interesting and affecting storyline, and I’m so glad I saw it on the big screen. Its only major award was a Golden Globe for Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score. It deserved better too.

Here’s a longer trailer for The Painted Veil. I missed the edit window.

Boy I suck today. I missed the edit window again, to add a link to the trailer for The White Countess.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, the movie, not the song. A rather sweet/quirky romantic comedy with Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd, about an older single mother working in Hollywood who starts a relationship with a younger actor. Written by Amy Heckerling (Clueless). I liked it a lot, though the disclaimer is that I watched it on an airplane, where I think my threshold for being pleasantly surprised is lower. Tracy Ullman was in it too, in a kind of strange turn as Mother Nature (who shows up to give voice to Pfeffer’s character’s concerns about aging and dating a younger guy. That’s why quirky). Oh, and her daugher is played by Saoirse Ronan, before she played young Briony in Atonement. I think this movie went direct to DVD in the US

Romance & Cigarettes has had mixed reviews, but seems to meet the criteria here. It’s a musical romantic dramedy, written and directed by John Turturro, starring Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Mary Louise Parker, Steve Buscemi, Aida Turturro, Mandy Moore, Elaine Stritch, Amy Sedaris and Eddie Izzard, amongst others. The U.S. distribution of the film was wonky, United Artists gave it only a limited release and it never played on more than 19 screens. (U.S. box office gross is in the neighborhood of $540,000.) Turturro was unhappy with that and attempted to self-distribute it to a wider market and essentially failed. It eventually came out on DVD more than two years after the initial release.

Another pseudo-release happened with the recent semi-remake of the Jack the Ripper story The Lodger, which had a theatrical run in a handful of venues in LA and was released on DVD nationwide all of two weeks later. The cast isn’t A-list, but respectable: Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Simon Baker, Philip Baker Hall, Donal Logue and Shane West. It’s a fairly workaday suspense movie but with a twist. It could’ve gotten decent play in theaters during the quiet days of March or April, I think, but they put it out in January while all of award-winning movies were still doing big business and it just stood no chance.

Pretty Maids All in a Row. Starring Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, James Doohan, John David Carson, written by Gene Roddenberry, directed by Roger Vadim.

Ever heard of it?

Didn’t think so.

A real undiscovered jewel of a film.

Also - Stay Hungry. Arnold Schwarzenegger - in his very first speaking role, and playing a serious character, no less - Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, Scatman Crothers, Robert Englund (the guy who played Freddy Kreuger,) John David Carson, a very young Ed Begley Jr., and a whole host of found local color from Birmingham, Alabama. One of the funniest and most interesting movies I’ve seen - and totally obscure.

That Brad Pitt Jesse James movie didn’t get much of a release, which was strange considering it had Brad Pitt and it was a pretty good movie (Casey Affleck was also good in it).

Romance and Cigarettes: unwatchable, should’ve died a quieter death.

The Lodger: worth watching, lame ending.

Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge and starring Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph got some great word-of-mouth, but never played in more than a few theaters. It was kind of like Judge’s other film Office Space in that it was poorly marketed, but attracted a wide following once it was released on video.

Granted it was a foreign film, but I don’t think many people even heard of Paris je t’aime that had appearances by Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood, and Natalie Portman.

Just watched that one on Saturday night. Funny in parts, just painful in others.

Time After Time. Name cast, unusual premise, got very little release or advertising, and I saw it five times.

It has become a staple of cable TV. The best Jack the Ripper/HG Wells movie ever made.