Why are Movies Released Late in NZ?

A source of constant frustration for many of you lovely Flicks readers – based on comments on Flicks and emails we get – is the delay between a movie being released overseas and here in New Zealand. The hype builds online, the reviews are glowing, your anticipation is unbearable – but alas, you wait. Likewise, we find it very annoying. So, in the first post on her on-going Flicks blog, Jill Macnab (Division Manager for Vendetta Films NZ, an independent film distribution company) tackles the issue…


I thought I’d wade right into the murky waters surrounding the delays between international release of films and their NZ release. I can understand people getting annoyed, heck I get annoyed… seeing my UK friends on Facebook talking about The Inbetweeners movie and having to wait a couple of months to see it. And don’t get me started on Attack the Block! But you know, it happens the other way around too – The Muppets only recently opened in the UK, a whole two months after we got to see it here in NZ.

First I have to ask, do you really think that distributors want there to be massive delays between overseas and NZ release dates? Do you think they plan it? “Oh, let’s screw over our customers!” We know as well as all of you the risks surrounding release delays and certainly try to avoid it where possible, but it’s very difficult in some cases.

The situation is a bit different for the studios versus the independents, and I can’t claim to know or understand how and why the major studios delay releases other than a couple of key points.

First of all, sometimes they reschedule titles to fit with the holidays here, particularly kids’ movies. Releasing something in June because that’s when it comes out in the USA doesn’t make sense when there are school holidays coming up in July and there’ll be a lot more people at the door over that time period. If a film doesn’t work, the cinema isn’t going to hold it there for three weeks because school holidays are coming up, it’ll get bad results and therefore no more sessions.

Secondly, it’s often the case that different territories aren’t sure whether to release a movie theatrically, so they wait to see the USA’s (or another country’s) box office results before deciding whether to go ahead themselves. This is probably something that won’t happen so much going forward given the VOD and alternative distribution models popping up, but at the moment it’s valid. It’s incredibly expensive to release a movie theatrically, so they have to be somewhat certain of its performance before release.

As for the fully independent companies like ourselves, it’s a whole different ballgame again and it basically comes down to three things: festivals, the release schedule and money (of course).


A lot of the theatrical movies we buy are titles the film festivals then want to screen. So we can either release a movie straight to cinemas to coincide more with the international dates, uncertain of the audiences we might attract, or we can let the festivals screen our movies first. Of course the kudos the festivals give us is certain to help a later theatrical, and the festivals are a very important part of our movie culture, so we want to support them wherever possible.

The biggest problem this then creates, however, is the huge backlog of movies needing theatrical release once the film festivals finish, which basically creates almost a waiting list of titles. There aren’t enough screens, or enough audience members, to accommodate all of these titles at once, so they have to be spread out over a few months.

Hollywood bosses rejoice at securing a sweet release date.

Release Schedule

In actual fact, this isn’t only a factor for independents or around film festival time. The reality is that outside of the massive blockbusters which get a global release date that can’t be changed, every other movie, be it from a studio or an independent, has to do a bit of a dance to find a good release date. Sometimes that might mean something releasing two or three weeks after the US, even for a movie that’ll do big bucks at the box office.

Also what often happens in the US with slightly smaller titles (by that, I mean potentially anything not AAA), is that they’ll get a limited release for a few weeks, and if they perform well, the studio will push the film out wider to more screens. So while we see the US release date as being 1 March, it actually might not have gone wide until 1 April, when more screens were available.


35mm prints are exceedingly expensive. And when you’ve paid a huge amount for the film rights, to then have to pay a huge amount for prints before even thinking about advertising, it’s often not financially viable to release a movie. So we can wait for another territory to release first and then buy prints from them at a much reduced rate. While this isn’t ideal, it’s often the only way to be able to afford to release a title theatrically. The good news is, the change in format from 35mm prints to digital cinema should largely remove a big chunk of this financial barrier. The bad news is, if you’re a connoisseur of prints and can’t bear digital cinema, you’re screwed.

I know everyone thinks all the distributors are sitting on piles of cash and if we’re not making tons of money from our movies then it’s our own fault for delaying the release date or doing bad marketing. But this is a very difficult business to achieve break even, let alone a profit. I guess you shouldn’t care about that because for you it’s entertainment, but for us it’s a business, it’s our job, and we have to react to the realities of the market. We are very lucky, being such a small country, that we get to see so many different movies released theatrically. Most countries our size don’t get to see half the movies we do.

None of this helps with the frustration we all feel when something is delayed and we’re reading and hearing about it from international friends and media. Believe me, this is as frustrating for distributors and cinemas as it is for you and I would love to see some alternative distribution models coming to the fore which would benefit all of us. I’m sure there are some releases that could be pulled into line a bit more but in most cases, there are real, valid reasons why we can’t and I hope I’ve helped explain them just a little bit.