Director Alex Ross Perry, in a piece at The Talkhouse:
Walking home from The Neon Demon, buzzing with the possibilities of what true art cinema is still capable of, I became obsessed with trying to unravel the circumstances of its abysmal failure to earn money, naturally the only kind of failure that matters more than artistic failure (which, of course, is totally subjective). Studying the elements of how a film like The Neon Demon gets made and released – foreign financing (a given for the Copenhagen-born Refn), major Hollywood stars, support from the obscenely wealthy Amazon – I wondered to what extent any of these parties involved care about the box office.
With a fancy Cannes red carpet premiere and the eventuality of splashing the film across the main page of Amazon when its streaming time comes, why would anybody care what a box-office flop it was? And also, why on earth would anybody think this film needed to be on 800 screens in the first place? Perhaps the thinking here is to copy the callous dump-and-grab studio model of quickly throwing product out there before anybody can point out how little audience support it is likely to amass and then move on as quickly as possible. Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, a reasonable point of comparison, never played on more than 250 screens and, I was shocked and amazed to discover, grossed over seven million dollars while playing in theaters from October 2001 through May 2002. There is a sensitivity to the handling of such cinema that, like nearly everything else about the ongoing disastrous spectacle that is independent film distribution, is a lost art.
I mostly agree with Perry about the artistic merit of The Neon Demon, and I think it could have made more money, but there’s nothing really here to back up his suggestion that indie film has a distribution problem in general. Amazon is a streaming platform, and I have my doubts that they care at all about theatrical releasing; that’s why they’ve farmed releases out to partners like Broad Green and Lionsgate. It seems a bit rash (and useless) to blame “the industry” when other distributors, such as A24, continue to have success with films like The Lobster. Maybe the real problem is just that Amazon doesn’t give a damn about theatrical marketing.