Focus Features has opted to shift the release date strategy for its upcoming film A Monster Calls, and it could signal a shift in awards strategy for the movie as well. The Impossible helmer J.A. Bayona directs this Patrick Ness adaptation, which revolves around a young boy dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) increasingly dire illness who finds a companion in a monster that appears at his window. The trailers released thus far have been spectacular, promising a tearjerker of the most intense sort, and the movie is poised to make a splashy debut on the fall film festival circuit at the Toronto International Film Festival next week. Given all of this, the film has been viewed as a potential awards contender, but now Focus is shaking things up by pushing the film’s release from October 21st to late December.
Indeed, instead of going wide with the picture in late October, A Monster Calls will now be released in a limited 10-city run on December 23rd before going wide in 1,500 theaters on January 6th. This is a classic platform release strategy, and one that could certainly serve in the film’s favor—if it’s a crowdpleaser and a tearjerker, it has the potential to be a major holiday hit. Moreover, while late October is still an awards friendly release date, it’s a bit riskier as the studio must ensure the film is not forgotten in the glut of November and December movies. By bowing at the tail end of December, this allows some buzz to build in the “crowdpleaser” vein, just as Oscar nominations ballots are due.
It’ll be interesting to see the reaction to the film once it premieres at TIFF next weekend. A film like this could certainly benefit from being a “breakout hit” on the festival circuit, building significant buzz that may or may not spur awards voters to move that screener to the top of their pile. While the fantasy elements aren’t exactly traditional Oscar material, Jones is an Oscar nominee herself and looks to be giving a terrific performance here, and Bayona earned high praise for his work on The Impossible. In fact, this film means so much to Bayona that he dropped out of directing World War Z 2 in order to ensure that he spent the necessary time devoted to post-production on A Monster Calls. It worked out OK—he’s now attached to helm Jurassic World 2.
This release date shift could be as much a commercial play as an awards strategy, as that October 21st date was mighty crowded. It had the pic going up against Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, Boo! A Madea Halloween and the horror sequel Ouija: Origin of Evil. Now, when the film expands wide on January 6th, it’ll face off against Underworld: Blood Wars and the horror reboot Amityville: The Awakening, offering up a prestige drama alternative to moviegoers.
So is A Monster Calls a major Oscar contender? Does this release date shift bode well for its awards chances? We can’t say for certain just yet, but we’ll have a much better idea after its TIFF bow—where I’ll be in attendance. Check back here on Collider for my full review of the film at the end of next week.