A year ago, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell launched what quickly became the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever, raising $5,702,153 from 91,585 backers to make a feature film version of their low-rated-but-much-beloved UPN/CW television series Veronica Mars.
This weekend, the film opened in 291 theaters, grossing just over $2 million, according to early estimates, for a per theater average of $6,945.
By no one's measuring stick would that result be considered a success. Thomas has said that he and Warner Bros. — which holds the rights to Veronica Mars and is distributing the film — have discussed a "magic revenue number" the film would have to hit before the studio would consider bankrolling a sequel. And while $2 million is also the amount of the Kickstarter campaign's original goal, which it reached in less than a day, determining where to place the goal for the film's success in the real world — a rubric that could demonstrate whether Veronica Mars truly does herald a revolution in independent film financing, or is simply a well-intentioned cinematic curiosity — is a tougher bullseye to define.
With an ultimate budget of $6 million (Warner Bros. paid for reshoots, as well as for the fulfillment costs for the Kickstarter backers), the nominal break-even point for the movie would usually be $12 million. (Movie theaters retain roughly half of box office revenue.) But the film is also currently available on VOD, and the viewership figures for that burgeoning market remain tightly held by studios and individual VOD outlets.
While a rep for Warner Bros. did indeed decline to respond to a request for the Veronica Mars VOD viewership numbers, the film does appear to be making money on demand: As of Sunday, Veronica Mars was ranked third on the iTunes charts, behind box office behemoths The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen (also starring Bell), and ahead of recent Oscar winners 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club. The first season of the UPN television series Veronica Mars, meanwhile, is currently number one on the iTunes TV season chart, indicating that both old fans and perhaps some new ones are binging on the series — and sending more pure profit Warner Bros.' way.
As for movie theater audiences, according to Box Office Mojo, roughly 242,000 tickets were sold for the film since Friday. It's a decent start, considering that is more than double the number of Kickstarter backers who helped make the movie possible, most of whom received a digital download of the film as part of their contribution to the campaign. Enough of those backers experienced difficulty with their download, however, that the film's customer service reps have had to pay backers back for purchasing the film outright via VOD.
It has been one of many fulfillment challenges for the project, and Thomas, perhaps wincing from signing thousands of posters over multiple days, has been clear that he won't be turning to crowdfunding again any time soon.
Will anyone else? In May, Zach Braff raised $3.1 million on Kickstarter for his independent feature Wish I Was Here, which sold at Sundance to Focus Features for $2.75 million and will be released this fall. Last August, Spike Lee raised $1.4 million for Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which is currently in post-production.
And then… nothing — no other film project has received more than $1 million on Kickstarter, and certainly no one nearly as famous as Thomas and Bell, Braff, or Lee have launched a successful campaign at that level. (Poor Melissa Joan Hart!) Besides the literally diminishing returns for these crowdfunded features from well-known filmmakers and stars, there has been a wait-and-see attitude about whether these films would be financially successful when released in the real world.
For Veronica Mars to reach that $12 million break-even point at the box office, filmgoers would need to purchase another 1.2 million tickets. Considering the show at its peak was watched by by 3.6 million people, that is theoretically possible. But Warner Bros. would have to release the film in several hundred more theaters, and boost its marketing budget considerably to reach them, not to mention the non-fans who would possibly be curious to see a movie about a former teenage gumshoe. It may be difficult to precisely define when Veronica Mars becomes a success, but it definitely has a lot of work to do to get there.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. Mr Peabody & Sherman — $21.2 million
2. 300: Rise of an Empire — $19.1 million
3. Need for Speed* — $17.8 million
4. Non-Stop — $10.6 million
5. Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club* — $8.3 million
6. The LEGO Movie — $7.7 million
7. Son of God — $5.4 million
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel — $3.6 million
9. Frozen — $2.1 million
10. Veronica Mars* — $2 million