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Direct-to-video or straight-to-video (also known as direct-to-VHS, direct-to-DVD, direct-to-Blu-ray, direct-to-digital, etc.) refers to the release of a film to the public immediately on home video formats rather than a theatrical release or television broadcast.[1] Because inferior sequels or prequels of larger-budget films may be released direct to video, references to direct-to-video releases are often pejorative. However, this belief is changing, with direct-to-video releases having become something of a profitable lifeline for independent filmmakers and smaller companies.[2]


  • Reasons for releasing direct to video 1
  • Physical format releases 2
    • Direct-to-video films screened theatrically 2.1
    • Direct-to-disc or "DVD Premiere" 2.2
  • Digital releases 3
    • Direct-to-iTunes 3.1
    • Direct-to-stream 3.2
  • The V-Cinema and OVA markets in Japan 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Reasons for releasing direct to video

A production studio may decide not to generally release a TV show or film for several possible reasons: a low budget, lack of support from a TV network, negative reviews, its controversial nature, or a simple lack of general public interest. Studios, limited in the annual number of films to which they grant cinematic releases, may choose to pull the completed film from the theaters, or never exhibit it in theaters at all. Studios then generate revenue through video sales and rentals.[3]

Direct-to-video releases have historically carried a stigma of lower technical or artistic quality than theatrical releases.[4] Some films released direct to video are films which have been completed but were never released in movie theaters. This delay often occurs when a studio doubts a film's commercial prospects justify a full cinema release, or because its release window has closed. In film industry slang, such films are referred to as having been "vaulted".[5]

Direct-to-video releases can be done for films which cannot be shown theatrically due to controversial content, or because the cost involved in a theatrical release is beyond the releasing company.[6]

Animated sequels and feature-length episodes of animated series are also often released in this fashion.[6] The Walt Disney Company began making sequels to many of its animated films for video release beginning with The Return of Jafar (the sequel to Aladdin) in 1994. Universal Studios also began their long line of The Land Before Time sequels that same year.

Studios may also release sequels or spin-offs to a successful live action film straight to DVD, due to a lack of budget in comparison to the original. An example is the Behind Enemy Lines series of films.

The family film segment is a major part of direct-to-video sales. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Often, the downfall of live-action family films at the box office is their strength on video. Their appeal is to families with young children, who may go to only a couple of movies per year but who will watch many videos multiple times. The teens and young adults who drive blockbuster box office statistics stay away from family movies.[7]

During the Golden Age of Porn in the 1970s, many pornographic films were released in theatres, some of which became some of the highest grossing films in their release years and in the porn industry altogether. Towards the 1980s porn began to shift to video release, because video allowed the producers to work on extremely low budgets and dispense with some film production elements like scripts, and the increased privacy and convenience of the format change were preferred by the target market. During the 1990s, pornographers began releasing content through paysites on the Internet.

Physical format releases

Direct-to-video films screened theatrically

Occasionally, a studio that makes a movie that was prepared as a direct-to-video film will release it theatrically at the last minute due to the success of another film with a similar subject matter or an ultimate studio decision. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an example of this. However, despite the movie's critically acclaimed success, its box-office performance was very poor, which has been attributed to its last minute decision to be released theatrically. The film had much better commercial success in its subsequent home video releases. Another example which garnered a large cult following is the 2001 psychological thriller Donnie Darko, which was originally slated for a direct-to-video release.

Other times, a direct-to-video movie may get a limited theatrical screening in order to build excitement for the actual release of the video such as was done for 2010's Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Planet Hulk,[8] or 2013's Sharknado.

Direct-to-disc or "DVD Premiere"

As DVDs gradually replaced VHS videocassettes, the term "direct-to-DVD" replaced "direct-to-video" in some instances.[9] However, the word "video" does not necessarily refer to videocassettes; many publications continue to use the term "direct-to-video" for DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Both disc-based release types may also be referred to as "direct-to-disc". A new term sometimes used is "DVD premiere" (DVDP).[10] Such films can cost as little as $20 million,[11] about a third of the average cost of a Hollywood release.[12] According to Variety, American Pie: Band Camp sold a million copies in one week, despite retaining only two actors from the original trilogy.[13]

Some direct-to-DVD releases recently have tended to feature actors who were formerly bankable stars, such as Bruce Willis, John Cusack, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Ray Liotta, Adrien Brody, Burt Reynolds, Brendan Fraser, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kristanna Loken, Ving Rhames, Val Kilmer, Danny Trejo, Lance Henriksen, Gary Busey, Rose McGowan, Salma Hayek, 50 Cent, Maggie Grace, Sticky Fingaz, Sophie Turner, Soulja Boy, Christian Slater, Malin Akerman, Vinnie Jones, Forest Whitaker, Alice Eve, Keith David, Nikki Reed, Sophia Myles, DMX, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Dorff, Dominic Purcell, Billy Zane, C. Thomas Howell, Kellan Lutz, Eric Roberts, Vivica A. Fox, Taylor Lautner, Alexa Vega, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Sharon Stone, Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger and Tom Sizemore.[11] Salaries for some of these direct-to-DVD actors were (at one point) in the multi-million-dollar range from $2 to $4 million (Van Damme) and $4.5 to $10 million (Seagal).[11] It is unknown whether Van Damme and Seagal are still paid this amount of money per film, as their salaries haven't been disclosed in recent years.

Digital releases


Direct to iTunes is an online distribution method that avoids all upfront DVD production, marketing and distribution costs as well as upfront cinema distribution and marketing costs. Apple distributes the film for 30% of the revenue, while an additional 10-15% may go to the person who formats the film for iTunes compatibility.[14] The first independently produced feature-length motion picture to pursue the direct-to-iTunes marketing scheme was Ed Burns' Purple Violets, which debuted on iTunes on November 20, 2007. It was the first feature-length film to "premiere exclusively on iTunes". It was distributed exclusively on iTunes at a price of US$14.99 for a month before being made available through other distribution channels.[15] The movie, which was produced at a cost of $4 million, had premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, where it was reviewed positively, but only received modest distribution offers.[14] At the time of the Purple Violets release, most studios were not distributing via iTunes early in the process and only Walt Disney Studios, which was the first movie studio to distribute via iTunes,[14] was distributing at iTunes simultaneously with DVD distribution.[16] It was not very common for consumers to make digital movie purchases at the time.[17] The Polish brothers' 2011 For Lovers Only, which had virtually no production costs and was released to iTunes on July 12, is regarded as the first profitable feature length direct-to-iTunes product.[18] The direct-to-iTunes method is also becoming common with both books and music.

When Purple Violets was released, several short films had already been distributed through iTunes. Previously, marketing of short films had been prohibitive. However, Apple distributed the February 25, 2007 79th Academy Awards nominees for the Animated Shorts, Live Action Shorts and Documentary Shorts as well as half of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival shorts, beginning a new era.[14]


Due to the growth of YouTube and other video-streaming websites, premieres of long-form films increasingly occur through online streams. Long-form films to premiere on YouTube or other sites include Home (2009), The Cult of Sincerity (2008), Life in a Day (2011), Eyes and Ears of God: Video Surveillance of Sudan (2012) and Zeitgeist: The Movie (2007). In 2010, Striker was the first Indian film to premiere on YouTube on the same day as it was premiered in theaters. Some releases are not only available only from digital services such as Netflix, but actually produced by them.

The V-Cinema and OVA markets in Japan

Japanese live action V-Cinema may serve as a stepping stone to greater things. Naoko Iijima started her career appearing on late night TV variety, and then focused on such V-Cinema titles as Strawberry Times 4 and Zero Woman: Final Mission (Zero WOMAN 警視庁0課の女 Zero Woman: Keishichō 0-ka no onna) before moving into a career in mainstream movies and TV. Cult director Takashi Miike has released quite a few of his works as V-Cinema perhaps preferring the freedom. Weather Report Girl (1995) starring Kei Mizutani is a rare case of a work being released to video, and then recalled by the maker, and released to theatres to considerable success. V-Cinema may be used for the sequels to a successful feature film (eg. Zero Woman, Sasori, Kunoichi Ninpoden, Baka Yaro or Pantsu no Ana). The content can be sexier or more violent than a mainstream feature film.

In the case of anime, this is called original video animation (sometimes capitalized, and abbreviated OVA or OAV). They're often used to tell stories too short to fill a full TV season, or to take creative risk without pressures from TV studios and sponsoring companies[19] and were particularly common in the early 1990s. Sometimes OVAs garner enough interest to justify commissioning a full TV show, such as Tenchi Muyo!, El Hazard, and Read or Die.

With the advent of the 13-episode season format, OVAs are less common now. The majority of OVAs released in today's market are usually continuations or reworkings of recently completed TV shows. For instance, the DVD release of a TV show might, as a sales hook, include a bonus episode that was never broadcast.

See also


  1. ^ Alvarez, Max J (1994-12-30). "Big Names Look For Bright Lights In Videoland".  
  2. ^ Lerman, Laurence (September 17, 2001). "Independents' 'Bread and Butter'". Video Business 21 (38). Section: Video Premieres. 
  3. ^ Barlow, Aaron (2005). The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology. Praeger/Greenwood. p. 19.  
  4. ^ Goodale, Gloria (October 23, 1998). "'Straight to Video' Picks up Steam". Christian Science Monitor. 
  5. ^ Bernstein, Adam (2004-12-12). "Silent Films Speak Loudly for Hughes". The Washington Post. TVWeek p. Y06. 
  6. ^ a b "More Films Jump Straight to DVD". USA Today. August 6, 2003. Section: Life, p. 03d. 
  7. ^ Matzer, Marla (1997-04-16). "Direct-to-Video Family Films Are Hitting Home".  
  8. ^ Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths gets big-screen Premieres on Two Coasts - - February 5, 2010
  9. ^ Berardinelli, James. "DVD's Scarlet Letter". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  10. ^ For one example of the term "DVDP" in use, see "Paramount grows DVDP slate". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  11. ^ a b c DVD Exclusive Online. "Stars, Money Migrate To DVDP (archived)". Archived from the original on 2006-05-15. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  12. ^ Mueller, Anne (23 Jun 2011). "Why Movies Cost So Much to Make". Investopedia US. IAC. Retrieved 24 Jul 2014. . As of 2007, the average production cost was $65 million, and distribution and marketing added about another $35 million, for a total of around $100 million
  13. ^ Hettrick, Scott (January 2, 2005). "Spending on DVDs up 10%".  
  14. ^ a b c d Halbfinger, David M. (2007-10-23). "Facing Competition, iTunes Revs Up Its Film Section".  
  15. ^ Graser, Marc (2007-10-25). "Ed Burns offers 'Violets' on iTunes: Feature to skip theatrical release".  
  16. ^ "Edward Burns - Movie Going Direct To Itunes". 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  17. ^ Kirsner, Scott (2007-11-02). "Studio's Digital Dilemma: Apple Calling Shots as Biz Tries To Control Market".  
  18. ^ "Stana Katic and Mark Polish Interview about For Lovers Only on Bloomberg West".  
  19. ^ " 

Further reading

  • Mayo, Mike (1997). VideoHound's Video Premieres: The Only Guide to Video Originals and Limited Releases. Visible Ink Press.  
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