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My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Slow Rollout Strategy Worked Like A Charm

To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the hit romantic comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," The Ringer did an oral history of the film. Part of the conversation revolved around the movie's distribution strategy, noting that the slow rollout was a deliberate choice that reaped dividends.

One of the reasons was to ensure the film didn't get lost in wide release amidst blockbuster juggernauts such as Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man." However, Bob Berney, who was the head of distribution for IFC at the time, also had another reason for the strategy. In an early screening, he witnessed a member of the audience fall out of her seat in laughter, leading to her breaking her hip and needing medical attention.

Berney decided that was the atmosphere in which the movie would best thrive, and aimed for small screenings that had a much better chance of selling out, leading to a communal experience where the laughter would spread throughout the audience.

"We all together made a conscious decision to keep it special, keep it limited, keep it sold out," Berney said. "We always felt like if we expanded, it may have done well, but it could have just easily fallen off before it became so widely known." The film's distribution peaked at around 1,000 screens, far lower than big-budget films would get. The film's limited release helped boost its popularity to the point that IFC ran out of film prints and had to tell theater owners to call back the next week for more copies.

The movie's commercial success is unlikely in today's environment

The rollout strategy allowed "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" to be a success where other movies would have faltered. A key indicator of the film's success was that it continued making money in theaters even after it had been sold to airlines to be shown as an in-flight movie. It ultimately made over $240 million domestically.

Jonathan Sehring, who was the president of IFC Films at the time that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was released, told The Ringer that it's unlikely that the film's theatrical success would be replicated in today's streaming environment. Streaming services, he noticed, allow for a guaranteed immediate profit, which is less risky than taking the movie to theaters.

Bob Berney noted that the extended theatrical release of the film is also unlikely in the modern distribution environment. He noted that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" would not have had the opportunity to grow gradually today, as the box office returns from the first two weekends are the markers of success and the present climate does not give movies a chance to grow and find their audience.

Berney said that the quick turnaround from a theatrical release to a streaming or VOD release would also have hindered the cult classic, especially with studios who use the films to market their own streaming services. The mix of these factors makes it unlikely that a film could find success today the way "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" did.