'Bachelorette' Hits Homes and Phones Before Theaters

"Bachelorette," a new movie starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher ("Confessions of a Shopoholic") and Lizzy Caplan ("New Girl"), has broken ground not only as a no-holds barred dark comedy with multiple female leads but for its digital-first release.

When Radius-TWC, a new unit of the Weinstein Co., released "Bachelorette," its first acquisition, on iTunes last month, it became the online store's No. 1 movie rental by Aug. 14, three weeks before it's slated to hit movie theaters.

The first movie for writer-director Leslye Headland, "Bachelorette," which is about three friends serving as bridesmaids for a girl they taunted in high school, will make it into movie houses in 20 cities Sept. 7, and will also be available on cable and satellite-TV on-demand.

The iTunes advance release was intended to build buzz about "Bachelorette" and to heighten how starkly it contrasts with Kristen Wiig's 2011 "Bridesmaids."

Matt Patches, Hollywood.com's movies editor, called "Bachelorette's" success on iTunes and video-on-demand a victory for the film industry.

"When I saw the movie at its first Sundance screening, I instantly knew that the buyers, hoping for another 'Bridesmaids,' were let down," Patches said. "The movie is dark and twisted -- funny, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. Miraculously, instead of trying to use marketing to sell it as something that it wasn't, the group that eventually picked it up, Radius-TWC, used VOD to put the movie in front of the audience that wanted to see it. They were able to sell the movie for what it was because their avenue of distribution didn't cost too much. That's promising for the world of independent movies."

Patches said he "definitely" expects to see more and higher-profile movies premiering this way instead of in theaters.

It helped that "Bachelorette" starred recognizable actors and had Hollywood-style production values, Patches said.

Strolling through the video store has been replaced by clicking through iTunes rentals or video-on-demand menus, he said. And with the vast variety available through such channels as YouTube, Hulu, iTunes and Netflix, not to mention the convenience of viewing these movies at home or on mobile devices, studios and distributors are competing fiercely to not only get their hands on original content but to deliver it quickly.

On Tuesday Amazon.com announced a deal to stream content from cable channel Epix, which ended its exclusive deal with Netflix Sept. 1. Shares of Netflix plummeted. On Wednesday midday, shares of Netflix were down 1.35 percent, to $55.18.

"People will see movies they've never heard of but take a chance on a familiar face or snazzy poster," Patches said. "With more and more indie movies drawing in big name talent who want to work outside the Hollywood system, this means of distribution will only become more popular and lucrative."

But Patches said he doubted that digital releases would decrease attendance in movie theaters. This summer's movie turnout has been surprisingly low, despite box-office hits like " "Dark Knight Rises" and "The Avengers."

Patches blames the downturn on the overall quality of movie releases this year.

"People will complain about movie ticket prices, the inconvenience of shlepping themselves to a movie theater, but if the movies in the theaters are good enough, they will go," he said.

Case in point: "The Avengers," "Ted" and "Magic Mike."

"The Avengers was a true event film with an overt fun factor," he said. "It demanded to be seen on the big screen. 'Ted' and 'Magic Mike' were both fresh films — amid sequels and remakes, they stood ou. In turn, they're both two of the biggest success stories of the year."