Smile director recalls the moment the film’s fortunes were changed

Smile poster
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Director Parker Finn describes the test screening of Smile that saved the film from a straight-to-streaming release. 

At the time of writing here in December 2022, Smile is still playing in some multiplexes. Not only has the film survived the wave of horror movies that released in its wake back in October, but it has also outlasted a fair few higher-profile movies too, on what has gone on to be a pretty impressive theatrical run. As it stands, Smile has grossed around $217m from a $17m production budget, not bad for a dark little horror flick that at one point was almost headed straight to streaming.

The film’s director, Parker Finn, has been chatting about Smile’s success and recalled that Sliding Doors moment where the film, originally green lit as a Paramount+ straight-to-streaming project, went in front of a test audience to determine its fate.

They always warn you ahead of time that horror routinely scores lower than other genres, and horror films that have the mean tone that Smile has score even lower than that, so they were prepared to look at it through that lens,” Finn tells The Hollywood Reporter.

He added that it was a 270 seat screening that changed the film’s fortunes, over in Burbank. “And when the movie started playing, you could feel the electricity in the air. The audience was screaming at the screen, so it was very clear that the communal environment and nature of it was incredible. And to Paramount’s credit, they recognised that, and they got behind the film in such an amazing way.”

You to have to hand it to Paramount for seeing the value in that screening and electing to give the film a theatrical release. Those who did manage to catch Smile at the cinema will have enjoyed the opportunity to see a surprisingly well-crafted horror movie viewed in what is undoubtedly the best environment to watch horror movies.

It’s a decision that has paid off for all involved, presumably even for Paramount+ as Smile's reputation will now make the film something of a higher-profile release for the platform. In the long run, perhaps the success of Smile will influence streamers to think carefully about the value of using theatrical exhibition to their advantage. And a sequel is almost certainly on the way next.

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