The importance of “timing.”

July 13, 2004

One of the most difficult marketing tasks is promoting the opening of a major motion picture. You have only one shot at success. If your film does not open big the first weekend, it is unlikely to ever really succeed. It is a sad fact of life. But one that movie makers must live with. Therefore every angle, every marketing technique, every PR story must be taken advantage of.

So how can you improve your odds? It seems obvious, but if you have a movie which can link itself to a live event or a holiday, you should open the movie that weekend.

I can still remember watching the Belmont horse race in 2003 when Funny Cide was going for Triple Crown glory. On came a commercial for Seabiscuit, the movie. Perfect, I thought to myself. The whole world has horse race fever; it is the perfect date to release the movie. Sadly the movie did not open for several more months, well after all the hoopla had subsided. Seabiscuit still did great at the box office, but I believe it could have done better if they took advantage of the PR power of one of the Triple Crown races.

Compare Seabiscuit to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ which opened on Ash Wednesday. Wonderful timing, people were in the perfect frame of mind and swarmed to the movie. The media ate up the story, the controversy, and the relevance. The movie was number one for several weeks in a row.

Recently, I have been reading about Wimbledon, the movie. Why didn’t they open the movie while the tournament was being played? All the media coverage about Sharapova wining the title and her resemblance to Kristen Dunst would have fabulous. Instead we have to wait until fall for the movie when most people will be thinking about grass-covered football fields not grass-covered tennis courts.

Of course, the movie studios could not have predicted a Triple Crown contender and a beautiful blonde winner of Wimbledon. Hindsight is always 20/20. But either way they would have given themselves a leg up by opening both movies on dates that made more sense.

It is not always having the better movie. Sometimes it is coming out with the right movie on the right weekend. What drives successful movies today is taking advantage of PR opportunities, dominating the media coverage and promoting word of mouth.