Today, you can finally check out George Clooney’s World War II caper The Monuments Men, a movie that had originally been set to premiere last December, right in the thick of Oscar season. “We said, let’s just find a spot where the movie can find an actual audience instead of fighting with 22 other films in December,” Clooney explained last fall, attempting to justify the delay. “Why are we running like crazy to get this out for a Christmas release, when that has become all about chasing Oscars?” Clooney’s not alone in his thinking — in fact, Monuments Men is one of several recent movies that fled from Oscar season at the last minute to relocate to a more peaceful berth months later. But were those movies well served by their release-date change, or should they have stuck to their guns? Let’s see how Monuments Men’s time-shifted predecessors have done to determine whether it’s a strategy worth pursuing.
Original release date: November 21, 2008
Delayed to: April 24, 2009
Was it the right decision? Yes, at least as far as star Robert Downey Jr. is concerned. The Soloist was originally supposed to land at the end of a crowded 2008 for the actor, who had seen his career reinvigorated that summer with twin hits Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, but when Paramount shuffled the mediocre Downey Jr.–Jamie Foxx music drama to 2009, the decks were cleared for Oscar voters to focus on Downey Jr.’s high-wire comic performance in Tropic Thunder, which would earn him an Academy Award nomination. Could Downey Jr. have campaigned for both Tropic Thunder and The Soloist at the same time, if he’d had to? “I wouldn’t have been able to work it with all the zeal of the highly professional whore that I am,” Downey Jr. chuckled to Newsday.
Final box office: $31.7 million, a poor tally for a prestige project from big names like Downey Jr., Foxx, and director Joe Wright, but a figure that would have been no better served the previous winter, when the cash-strapped Paramount was forced to allocate most of its promotional resources to the far more successful The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Oscar tally: None
Original release date: October 2, 2009
Delayed to: February 19, 2010
Was it the right decision? Yes, and it’s a best-case scenario that all Oscar bumpees since have looked to with fingers crossed. Just six weeks before the Martin Scorsese–Leonardo DiCaprio thriller was supposed to make its October 2009 bow, Paramount abruptly pushed the film to February, admitting that the studio had been hit hard by the recession and DVD downturn and simply didn’t have enough money to market it. “Our 2009 slate was greenlit in a very different economic climate,” said Paramount chairman Brad Grey, who also saved cash on Shutter Island’s planned Oscar spend, which would have been sizable given that Scorsese was just coming off his Best Picture winner The Departed. In the end, though, Shutter Island wasn’t really an awards season movie anyway, just a well-made genre movie that was better off without having to bear any Oscar-related scrutiny.
Final box office: Shutter Island took in a mammoth $41 million in its first February weekend, by far Scorsese’s biggest opening ever. “We have rarely felt more pressure about an opening,” Paramount vice-chairman Rob Moore confessed afterwards. “Everyone was standing over us to see if the decision was a good one. Luckily, the result was phenomenal.” Ultimately, Shutter Island went on to earn a very healthy $128 million domestically.
Oscar tally: None
Original release date: November 2009
Delayed to: March 12, 2010
Was it the right decision? Not quite. Universal made the Iraq War film principally to stay in business with director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon, the principals behind Universal’s lucrative Bourne franchise, but after the studio suffered through a terrible financial year (sensing a pattern?) and Greengrass handed in a final film that turned out just okay, executives delayed Green Zone and decided to curtail Universal’s Oscar campaigning in 2009 almost completely. The problem? Green Zone was swamped in its new release date by Alice in Wonderland, a four-quadrant juggernaut that became one of the highest-grossing films of all time. It might have been better off the previous November as a male-targeted alternative to female-skewing hits like The Blind Side and The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
Final box office: $35 million, a miserly return on Universal’s $130 million investment.
Oscar tally: None
The Great Gatsby
Original release date: December 25, 2012
Delayed to: May 10, 2013
Was it the right decision? Absolutely. Gatsby was originally meant to open on Christmas in 2012, the exact same day as DiCaprio’s Django Unchained, which would have presented a uniquely nightmarish promotional problem for the actor. By delaying the film for over five months, DiCaprio was free to embark on a worldwide tour solely devoted to Gatsby (which opened the Cannes Film Festival), director Baz Luhrmann had more time to put together a killer soundtrack, and the film was freed from the burden of Oscar expectations, which was ultimately a good thing — could we really have appreciated DiCaprio’s wackadoo Gatsby introduction as much if we were viewing it through a stately Oscar lens?
Final box office: $144.8 million, a stellar example of summer counter-programming, and a number that would probably have been reduced had it gone up against similar prestige pics like Les Misérables and Django Unchained in its original release date.
Oscar tally: Gatsby is nominated this year for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, and expected to win both categories.
Original release date: December 18, 2013
Delayed to: February 7, 2014
Was it the right decision? Yes. This has been the most competitive Oscar season in recent memory, and the lightweight Monuments Men would have been ill-served going up against critical juggernauts like 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. Better to dispel the idea that it’s an Oscar movie entirely, though Clooney has insisted all along that the delay had nothing to do with awards season and was merely needed to tinker longer on Monuments Men’s special effects. (For what it’s worth, the effects are very nice.)
Final box office and Oscar tally: To be determined