Has Precious (2009) Peaked? A Case Study in the Uncertainties of Motion Picture Marketing

After an unprecedented sweep of the audience awards at Sundance and Toronto in 2009, indie film Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire made a very strong debut in commercial release. On Friday Nov. 20th 2009, Precious finally hit wide release (if only on 629 screens) and in just three days the film with all the festival buzz earned almost $11,000,000, averaging $17,000 per screen. But then, against almost all predictions, the march to awards season success and wide acceptance for Precious stumbled. By Christmas weekend 2009, the theatrical release of Precious was out of steam. The audience award winning film was struggling to hold onto screens and falling well out of the top ten. Most surprisingly, after the audience awards at Sundance and Toronto, Precious had been overlooked by some (but not all) of the early award nominators.

So what happened? After the biggest festival launch anyone could remember and a top-of-the-line marketing campaign with the promise of Oscar triumphs to come, why was Precious barely averaging $1,300 per screen after Christmas? Clearly Precious is not going to be another Slumdog. It's one thing to be overshadowed by huge commercial films like Avatar and Sherlock Holmes, but what can other indie filmmakers hope for if Precious can't sell 150 tickets per screen for the entire post-holiday weekend? And does it still make sense for indie filmmakers to shoot for a theatrical release if one month after it opens wide, Precious can't sell more tickets per screen than obvious misfires like Did You Hear About the Morgans, Brothers and Armored?

Most pundits still expect Precious (2009) to land a best-picture Oscar nomination (in a ten-nominee field, it would be a HUGE upset if it didn’t), but the commercial buzz surrounding Lee Daniels’s film has clearly cooled and, in a Dec. 24th 2009 Vanity Fair article, Karina Longworth explores why the critics and awards committees haven't universally supported Precious.

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