There are many reasons a movie skips a traditional theatrical release and hits retail shelves as a "straight to DVD" movie. The decision to bypass the movie theater and head straight for the "New Release" wall at movie retailers is usually made by a movie's production company. A famous example of a film that very nearly went straight to DVD is Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, nearly the victim of a swap in production company that would have put the Oscar winning flick in the straight to DVD bin instead of on the big screen at your local theater.
The most common reason for releasing straight to DVD movies is the expense of putting a movie in theaters. If a production company doesn't think the movie will be a hit, they're unlikely to spend the time and money it takes to promote a new release movie. It is much cheaper to release a movie straight to DVD, by passing advertising and promotional expenses. Another common reason for a straight to DVD release is a lack of money--"indie" movies are usually not associated with a production company, so these films are shown at film festivals and promoted by word-of-mouth.
Here are ten awesome straight to DVD movies that skipped theaters but still deserve a watch.
Straight to DVD documentaries are common--usually produced by small companies or individuals without the means to advertise a film. The Last Continent is narrated by Donald Sutherland, telling the story of a group of adventurers and scientists who live on Antarctica for more than a year, documenting the effects of climate change. This movie is getting a surprisingly good rating at IMDB, a 7 out of 10. Critical reaction to the movie was less than stellar, which was apparently a big reason why it went straight to DVD.
American straight to DVD comedies are not usually very funny. Comedies are popular enough that most production companies find a way to get them in the theaters. Coopers' Christmas is an uncommon take on the Christmas movie genre starring Jason Jones, Samantha Bee, and Dave Foley. A nice cast for a straight to DVD comedy. The movie tells the story of a family who realizes the extent of their dysfunction after finding an old home movie of their 1985 Christmas gathering. It's a funny concept and a decently funny movie, a great antidote to sickeningly sweet Christmas specials.
Another documentary suffering from a straight to DVD release is this gem co-written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On the Shoulders of Giants tells the story of the Harlem Renaissance, an all-black basketball team that barnstormed the country, at one point winning 88 games in a row against all-white and mixed race teams. Most people don't know the story of the Rens, as they were called, and the film includes commentary by celebs like Charles Barkley, Grant Hill, Maya Angelou, Cornel West, Samuel L. Jackson, Wynton Marsalis, and Spike Lee.
Screened at the 2009 South by Southwest film festival, ExTerminators' plot sounds rich enough. A group of women in an anger management class band together and start murdering the boyfriends and ex-husbands of their classmates. If it sounds like a horror movie, it's not--sort of a black comedy or light exploitation flick. ExTerminators got a little bit of buzz after SxSW, but fizzled and eventually went straight to DVD. Look for Heather Graham in a surprisingly funny role.
Straight to DVD is the domain of thrillers and horror films, and the most popular straight to DVD release of the past few years is Unthinkable, a movie with a standard "stop the terrorist attack" plot and an amazing cast. Samuel L. Jackson's performance is getting rave reviews, as is bad-guy Michael Sheen and Carrie-Anne Moss in her role as an FBI agent foil to Jackson's violent tactics. Good performances all around in Unthinkable, a movie that may have performed fairly well in movie theaters if a good release date had been found.
Another thriller, this time with a superhero twist. In Cross, Brian Austin Green plays an ersatz superhero given ersatz powers by an ersatz Celtic cross. This movie would be a real sleeper if not for the cast--besides Green, there's Jake Busey, Vinnie Jones, Michael Clarke Duncan, C. Thomas Howell, and Tom Sizemore. Reviews are mixed, but when it comes to straight to DVD thrillers, you take what you can get.
Because the copyright on the 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead has expired, anybody who wants to can take a shot at remaking the film, and they have. Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is a unique take on this tactic, bringing together hundreds of artists to create new visuals to go along with the original film's audio track. This is a totally unique way of remaking a movie, and keeps you guessing throughout, with some artists interpretations lasting just a few seconds. Animation, claymation, and even puppetry combine for a weird look at a classic horror film.
Another zany British comedy-horror movie about zombies. Don't expect the quality of Shaun of the Dead, but Doghouse is a decent movie, especially for a zombie straight to DVD release. In Doghouse, a group of dudes go for a male bonding trip but a clan of hungry female zombies gets in the way of their plans. As zombie movies go, straight to DVD releases are usually the worst of the worst, but this movie (released by new imprint IFC Midnight) should hit Video on Demand plans like a ton of bricks, going straight to DVD soon after.
Straight to DVD is sometimes a code word for "this movie sucks," but not every movie suffering from financial troubles or the decisions of a production company is bad. The eight movies on this list are evidence of that. You can find all sorts of movies going straight to DVD, from family comedies to dramas to slasher flicks. Don't always assume that no movie released straight to DVD is a stinker. There's usually a diamond or two in the rough.