”The Insider” hit video stores last week, and director/cowriter Michael Mann is confident that it will finally smoke out the audience that gushing reviews and seven Oscar nominations couldn’t seem to attract. ”People will see it on video or DVD,” says Mann of the $68 million Al Pacino thriller that has earned less than $30 million at the box office. ”This movie isn’t going away.”
And ”The Insider” isn’t the only Academy darling and box office underperformer arriving on the New Release rack: ”Boys Don’t Cry” (out this week), ”Being John Malkovich” (May 2), and ”The Straight Story” (May 9) can all expect a more profitable second chance. ”Video is viewed as Hollywood’s safety net for its underachievers,” says Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. ”Those that get up on the high wire at theaters and fall off don’t completely splat because there is the video payoff.”
Indeed, video has become the great savior of high-quality box office duds, now accounting for more than 50 percent of a film’s final revenue, according to Kevin Brass, executive editor of Video Store magazine. Just look at how some of last year’s low-grossing Oscar nominees were resurrected on tape: ”Affliction” grossed $6.3 million in theaters, and $19.9 on video; ”Gods and Monsters” upped its $6.4 million theatrical take by $22.2 million in the home market, and ”The Thin Red Line” beat its $36.4 million big-screen gross with $47.8 on the small screen. ”These [acclaimed] movies have a long shelf life,” says Brass. ”People find them.”
Patience is the key. While weightless commercial smashes like ”Double Jeopardy” leap to the top of the video charts, they’ll be forgotten in a matter of months — unlike the critical darlings. ”Quality eventually wins out,” says Adams. ”When you look at the annual list of top 1,000 rental titles, what you see among movies that are more than two years old are the good movies,” like ”The Graduate” or ”Casablanca,” which make the list every time.
So director Mann’s optimism about ”The Insider” seems justified. But if he needs reassurance he can ask Philip Baker Hall, who played ”60 Minutes”’ Don Hewitt in the film and knows the benefit of home-screening. Hall’s 1997 gambling drama ”Hard Eight” (directed by a then unknown Paul Thomas Anderson) tanked at the box office, but has since become a video hit . ”I can tell from the residual checks I get that it’s been really popular, and yet almost nobody saw it the first time around in theaters,” Hall tells EW Online. ”It happens, and hopefully it will happen with ‘Insider’ too.”