Re-releasing films with a bit of tacked-on footage is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence – a few thoughts on a growing trend.
The practice of re-releasing movies with additional footage is becoming increasingly commonplace in cinemas. Marvel Studios is the company that perhaps first springs to mind when thinking about this growing phenomenon, but it is by no means the first studio to do so. James Cameron would famously recut a Special Edition of Aliens, adding in 17 extra minutes of footage. However, the filmmaker’s longer version wouldn’t make it into cinemas for many years after the 1986 original. Likewise George Lucas memorably added extra scenes into his original Star Wars trilogy but that repackaged Special Edition series wouldn’t emerge for well over a decade after the original films wrapped up.
However, in a similar fashion to the way in which it has distilled the blockbuster into a simple, repeatable formula, Marvel Studios has refined the process of repackaged re-releases. Why wait 15 years to re-release a film when you can wait 15 minutes? Why spend time stitching unused scenes back into films or tweaking visual effects when you can just bung a few random bits on the end? 2019 saw the company re-release both Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home mere months after their initial theatrical runs had ended. Additional (and rather non-consequential) gubbins were added to each film to draw fans back, such as director introductions, post-credit additions and the like but we aren’t talking about the same levels of care and detail that Cameron, Lucas and others have lavished on their re-releases in the past.
In the couple of years since Marvel kicked off this process, movies outside of the blockbuster space have joined the party too: Sony re-released Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood with ten minutes of new scenes added in at the end, whilst 2022’s breakout indie hit, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once did the same this very month.
So here’s the thing: whenever Film Stories reports on such an announcement, reactions in the comments sections can range from enthusiastic encouragement to timeworn shrugs. Like any aspect of film fandom these days, there might even be a few knotty ethical questions involved when considering whether to support such projects.
Fortune & glory, kid
Let’s begin with the most fundamental issue here: purpose.
All re-releases are commissioned with the intention of making somebody, somewhere, some money. However, beyond that, a case-by-case examination of a studio’s secondary purpose can be useful in assessing the validity of a repackaged release. For example, as much as we liked Avengers: Endgame, Marvel’s decision to re-release the film some three months after it first landed was somewhat dubious given that it was a transparently obvious attempt to oust James Cameron’s Avatar from its perch, stealing the glory of topping the highest-grossing movie of all time list.
Why was this not cool? Well, firstly, Endgame came close to unseating Avatar in its original run but ultimately, it didn’t. The film got its pop at the champ and it came close, but it failed. This is no noble underdog story either: the Marvel Cinematic Universe had over 20 films chock-full of iconic characters to build its audience for Endgame whilst Avatar was an original (at the time). It’s also worth mentioning that Endgame had an added advantage in the form of a decade’s worth of inflation. An average cinema ticket in 2019 would set you back an extra two dollars, meaning Endgame already possessed a small but significant advantage over Avatar that it ultimately couldn’t quite capitalise on.
It felt like a play for the high score table, rather than adding anything of substance to the film. In the end, Avatar would be re-released anyway and claim the top spot.
Good eyes, Murphy
So what if the intention is simply to give audiences another chance to enjoy a film? That seems straightforward, right?
Whilst on the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong with giving audiences another chance to enjoy a beloved film with a few extra bits thrown in, or perhaps catch a movie they completely missed first time around, we once again have to consider things on an individual basis. Let us here examine the contrasting repackaged releases of Marvel Studio’s Spider-Man: Far From Home with A24’s Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. One of these films (that’d be the one with the huge budget and one of the world’s most recognisable comic book characters in it,) enjoyed a sustained, omnipresent run at the box office, in part aided by other studios hastily rescheduling releases to steer clear of the MCU juggernaut. Still, it was a box office sensation at a point cinema needed one.
The other movie, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, released in the shadow of a (different) screen-swamping Marvel blockbuster, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, whilst also deploying a similar premise as said blockbuster. If you’re anything like us, you didn’t exactly race out of Doctor Strange eager to see more multiverse shenanigans. And that’s if you’d even heard of Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, given how its marketing budget would have cost probably less than the team who style Benedict Cumberbatch’s impressively ornate Doctor Strange goatee.
It seems clear then, that in the quest to get more eyeballs focused on your film, there are ‘good’ reasons to press ahead with a re-packaged release. Giving audiences another chance to see a smaller indie movie that they may have missed due to ‘multiverse fatigue’ or a smaller marketing spend seems fair. Unleashing a massive blockbuster again a year or so on with some added footage feels more cynical.
Once Upon a Time…
This supposed ‘case-by-case basis’ so far seems to be adopting a firm anti-blockbuster bent and perhaps there’s some truth in that. After all, tentpole releases already fill the screens of our local cinemas meaning smaller movies often can’t get a look-in, pushed out in favour of dozens of screenings of the latest high-profile blockbuster. To then hastily repackage that mega-release and give it another screen-grabbing run at cinemas does seem like a questionable practice.
Perhaps if there was some artistic merit in a repackaged release, then it’s understandable, but quite often, this simply isn’t the case. Quentin Tarantino’s aforementioned opus, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood found itself getting a re-packaged release with more ‘sights and sounds of the sixties’ under the guise of getting the film some juice during awards season. Of course, it likely had nothing at all to do with the fact that the movie was scrapped from playing in China at the very last minute, leaving Sony short of a bob or two that it was most likely looking forward to collecting. (Should you be interested, we recently added some thoughts about Hollywood’s shifting relationship with the Chinese box office here. )
Now if Sony’s reasoning really was to push Once Upon A Time to awards glory then fair enough. The nature of the annual film calendar means that sometimes, films miss out on buzz, simply because of the time of the year in which they release. Certainly in the case of Once Upon A Time, it didn’t hurt the film’s chances as the film went on to be nominated in several of the major Academy Award categories and Brad Pitt walked away clutching the first Oscar of his career for his turn in the movie. Likewise, A24’s re-release of Midsommar was designed to drum up some awards noise and that ‘unrated director’s cut’ was an extended version of the already-long film that clearly had plenty of care and attention lavished upon it. It was also a director’s cut that added interesting material. There was a purpose to it.
However, for every repackaged re-release of Midsommar or Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, there’s another Marvel movie lurking in the wings. September will see the re-release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, apparently with ‘more fun stuff’ added. Whilst it’s appreciated that at least Marvel – and Sony in this case – is now suggesting it might actually add bits of worth into its re-releases rather than just tack some guff on the end that it found in a cupboard somewhere, it still feels a bit odd.
Slowly but surely, the process of repackaged re-releases seems like it is being hijacked by the big studios in the singular pursuit of profit. Whether these re-releases, occurring just months after the film debuts, become a regular part of a blockbuster film’s life-cycle remains to be seen, but it’s a trend that we’re already skeptical of (although perhaps Paramount’s recently announced two-day celebration of Top Gun: Maverick, adding extra features whilst the film is still enjoying its original cinematic run is a more palatable way to go).
Worse still, when fans tire of this trend as they surely will, you hope it doesn’t poison the well for audiences for the smaller movies and for repertory anniversary screenings for whom re-releases can really matter. With great power comes great responsibility, after all. And it pays to treat cinemagoers right.
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