More star-driven movies go straight to DVD

Zac Efron, Gerard Butler, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino and Eric Bana can all draw sizable audiences but you won’t see their most recent movies in Australian cinemas.

Nor will The Spirit of '45, a feature-length documentary by the highly respected English director Ken Loach, or Michael Kohlhaas, a 16th century adventure starring Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair), play theatrically.

Distributors increasingly are opting to release films straight to home entertainment because it’s it tough to recoup theatrical release costs while DVD and Blu-ray sales continue to fall and since Foxtel Movies slashed the license fees for movies by 30%.

Efron is part of the ensemble cast of Parkland, which recounts the chaotic events in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Also starring are Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, Jacki Weaver and Jackie Earle Haley.

Roadshow pulled the cinema release, which was scheduled for November 28, after the docudrama bombed in the US in October and got some withering reviews. “Watching the movie is like enduring dental surgery without anaesthesia,” said The New York Times’ Stephen Holden. “You clench your fists, suck in your breath and remind yourself that the pain will end. And when it does, sooner than expected, you sigh with relief.”

Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger headline Escape Plan as criminals who devise a daring plan to extricate themselves from the most heavily protected and fortified prison ever built. The action-thriller was due to open on November 28 but eOne Hopscotch pulled the title after it took a lousy S9 million in its first weekend in the US in October.

“It’s a prudent decision to go straight to home entertainment,” says Hopscotch Entertainment MD Jude Troy, who is heartened by the growth of Video-on-Demand and electronic sell through revenues.

Hopscotch took the same route in September/October with Stand Up Guys, a dramedy about an old guy (Pacino) who is released after serving 28 years in prison and reunites with two pals (Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin); and Deadfall, a thriller featuring Bana and Olivia Wilde as siblings on the run after a casino heist goes wrong in the thriller.

“Both titles performed very well,” says Troy. “When films do not connect internationally there is a lack of appetite for them from exhibitors."

Earlier this year Hopscotch followed the same strategy with Chasing Mavericks, a surfing drama starring Gerard Butler, which Curtis Hanson started directing but fell ill and was replaced by Michael Apted.

Another recent direct-to DVD Hopscotch release was Starbuck, Canadian writer-director Ken Scott’s 2011 comedy about a part-time delivery driver who discovers the sperm donations he made in the 1980s have resulted in 533 pregnancies, and 142 of his children are suing.

If the plot sounds familiar it’s because it inspired a US remake by DreamWorks, Delivery Man, starring Vince Vaughn, again directed by Scott, which opens here on December 5.

Rialto Distribution is releasing on home entertainment The Spirit of ’45, Loach’s account of the Labour Government’s efforts to rebuild Britain after WW2, and Michael Kohlhaas, in which Mikkelsen plays a horse dealer in Cévennes who is treated badly by a lord and decides to put the country to fire and sword in order to regain his rights.