Simply put, this is the practice of skipping theaters/television and just going straight to home video as the first release. This is generally not a good sign in terms of quality (especially if it was
originally going to be released theatrically, but was consigned to video), the term "direct-to-video" or "straight-to-video" often gets used as slang for "cheaply made, rushed, low quality", and in extreme cases, "complete bucket of crap."
In the United States, while there have been plenty of direct-to-video films and such since the advent of home video, they were usually things that were considered financially unsound to release in theaters, like instructional videos, specialized documentaries, foreign films, films with controversial or niche subject matter, and pornography. The practice of creating and releasing regular fiction specifically for video didn't really take off until 1994 with Disney
's Return of Jafar
's The Land Before Time II
, neither of which was intended to hit theaters at any point in its production.note
Other studios started following suit, hardly limited to child-oriented animation. In particular, independent studios and filmmakers quickly picked up on this distribution model, due to its lower distribution costs and reduced censorship (video stores will often stock unrated
films that theaters won't touch).
Internationally, many films that had a theatrical release may be released Direct-to-Video in other countries note
. This may be due to several factors.
There is a distinct business model that drives the direct-to-video industry, particularly when it involves lower-quality films. One might think that churning out mediocre-to-bad movies on purpose would be a dumb idea, until one looks at the sales and rental figures. A cheap 70- to 90-minute film can be produced for as little as a few thousand dollars if you hire obscure actors, crew and writers (often non-union
, and barely getting minimum wage), everything gets shot around the studio
, and nothing is required that can't be obtained from the studio's stock wardrobe and props. The studio then usually makes about $3-5 million off this, most of it from sales to rental chains. It floods the market with tripe into which nobody put any true effort, but it still makes money in the long run. It's the modern equivalent
of the B-Movie
; in fact, many of these would be B movies if double features were still a regular thing. Some direct-to-video flicks will try to make lemonade of their lemons
by claiming that their movie is "too intense", "too scary", "too well-written" or "too lavishly budgeted" for theaters, usually the viewers don't fall for it.
Sometimes, things that were originally intended to be Direct to Video end up getting retrofitted to show on television or in theaters. Usually, only some minimal editing is done to make it fit for theaters, but there have been cases where the project was intervened midway and beefed up to make it quite a bit better. An example of the former is Doug's First Movie
, which was put into theaters after the success of The Rugrats Movie
. A famous example of the latter is Toy Story 2
, on which Pixar
expanded tremendously for its theatrical release, along with another Disney film, Recess Schools Out
. More recently, Honey 2
- intended as a Direct-to-Video
movie (which is still the case in North America) got a European theatrical release first... and no, Jessica Alba did not return
In Japan, OVAs
follow the same model of distribution, but have the opposite expectations in terms of their quality. With larger budgets and without Executive Meddling
or the strict requirements of the Media Watchdogs
, OVAs are expected to be significantly better than television-based anime. Live-action direct-to-video, known as "V-cinema" overseas (although this is technically a trademark of Toei Company
), also has a much better reputation in Japan. This is due mainly to the number of established filmmakers who use it for their more "experimental" or unusual work, enjoying the greater creative freedom and lack of censorship.
In short, while "direct-to-video" means "too bad for theaters" in the West, OVA means "too good for a TV series" in the East.
In a further expansion of the phenomenon, it has become increasingly common for Missing Episodes
of shows that were canceled early
to first see the light of day on the home video release.
Noteworthy direct-to-video releases (examples by source media)
Anime and Manga
- The American releases of the Pokémon movies, beginning with the sixth one; the closest they get to a theatrical release now is a premiere on Cartoon Network.
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes, being 110 episodes long (i.e. longer than most TV series) was - to many viewers' surprise - an OVA released straight-to-Laserdisc. The result is a tight script with virtually no Plot Hole nor Filler. Limited animation budget somehow effectively avoided Stock Footage usage throughout long-winded space battles... almost (Stock Footage was used occasionally, but the interval between each usage can easily be wide up to tens of episodes that you won't notice it once it's in effect).
- The Animatrix is probably the second best thing that ever happened to The Matrix franchise (with the sequels rarely on fans' favorite list, the video game adaptations fall victim to the typical syndrome and the graphic novels largely forgettable). Most of its success can be credited to bold exploration into the Matrix mythos, a return to the cyberpunk theme (that was never revisited by the sequels) and the excel in both hand-drawn and CGI animation.
- There have recently been a series of Marvel Comics direct-to-video animated adaptation such as Ultimate Avengers and Hulk Vs.., which in practice are more like OVAs: both better animated and less-censored than their television counterparts.
- DC Comics has a similar line of such productions, including Superman: Doomsday (adapted from The Death of Superman) and Wonder Woman.
- The Beano Video and it's sequel were both Direct to video. These were a number of animated shorts featuring characters from The Beano.
- The Hellboy Animated series comprises two films: Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron. (Both films did air on Cartoon Network shortly after they were released on DVD.) In spite of having much of the voice work provided by the same actors from the Hellboy live-action films, Animated is a distinct continuity. If anything, it's closer to the original comics.
- Most of National Lampoon's later films have been released direct-to-video. Not surprisingly, this coincides with the steep fall in quality that their films have taken.
- Slumdog Millionaire was almost released this way until Fox Searchlight signed on as distributor.
- Controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike loves using direct-to-video V-cinema for many of his more unusual movies, because of the creative freedom this provides him. Miike is often touted as part of the reason for V-cinema's good reputation overseas.
- All of the Puppet Master franchise was released straight to video. This was because producer Charles Band thought he would make more money going this route instead of taking it to theaters. In fact, most of Full Moon Entertainment's works are direct-to-video.
- Theodore Rex was intended to be a theatrical release, but after some complications, including a few failed test screenings, it was released straight to video. Having a budget of $33.5 million, it was the most expensive direct-to-video release of its time.
- Most mockbusters use the DTV market in order to dupe unsuspecting customers.
- All of Ernest P. Worrell's films after Ernest Rides Again.
- The live-action Casper film produced several. They could hardly even really be called "sequels" seeing how they disregarded the continuity of the original movie so completely that the presence of Casper and his uncles was literally the only similarity to the feature film. They haunted a different house in a different town and all movie-based characters were dropped, all without explanation. And, of course, there was also the expected downgrade in the quality of the CGI.(It should be noted that Amblin, ILM and Universal were not involved with the sequels, though Universal and Amblin did produce the better-received animated series.) Incidentally, the Casper "sequels" gave a very young Hilary Duff her first acting role as Wendy in Casper Meets Wendy.
- All Nollywood movies are like this.
- The Universal Soldier franchise is an interesting case of this. A pair of DTV films (Brothers In Arms and Unfinished Business) were released in 1998 sans any of the original cast members, and focused on lead character Luc Deveraux's attempts to stop the UniSol program from smuggling diamonds while helping reporter Veronica Roberts clear her name after the events of the original film. The DTV sequels were subsequently retconned by 1998's theatrical Universal Soldier: The Return. That film, in turn, was retconned by 2010's DTV Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which disregards everything except the original.
- In The Electric Mist, an acclaimed crime drama with Tommy Lee Jones and John Goodman and directed by Bertrand Tavernier that had the misfortune of going straight-to-DVD after failing to find a distributor. It did manage a brief theatrical run though after the film rented well.
- You would think that a movie starring Michael Jackson put out in 1988 would have no trouble getting a theatrical release - and you would be right... except that Moonwalker wound up going straight to video in the US after Jackson's then-manager Frank DiLeo asked for an exorbitant share of the box office takings.
- An interesting case is the 2006 thriller The Contract, which starred John Cusack as a school coach who unwittingly ends up having to escort an assassin (played by Morgan Freeman, no less) during a camping trip and avoid a group of the assassin's cohorts while he tries to bring him back to police custody. Despite having several major film and television stars attached to the project, the production (which cost $25 million) was shut down after 50 days by Millennium Films, leaving the director to finish the project with money out of his own pocket. The resulting film was unceremoniously dumped on DVD stateside after a limited theatrical showing - in France.
- Millennium Films also produced the Morgan Freeman/Antonio Bandaras heist film The Code (a.k.a. Thick As Thieves), which revolved around a veteran thief recruiting a younger crook to help him pull off a final job to pay off the Russian mob. Despite attracting some top-tier talent - Mimi Leder (Deep Impact) directed and Tom Hardy co-starred - the film was also dumped on DVD without a theatrical release (it was however the top-renting movie the week it was released on DVD, giving sort of a happy ending for the film).
- Another film starring Morgan Freeman, The Maiden Heist, was released straight to DVD after the distributor Yari Film Group went bankrupt. The film co-stars Willam H Macy and Christopher Walken, both also big names.
- The first film version of The Punisher was planned for a US theatrical release by its makers New World Pictures, but the new owners decided to focus more on television and elected to sit on this, Warlock and Meet The Applegates (although all three did open as planned outside the US through other distributors). The other two did get American theatrical release eventually, but The Punisher spent two years on the shelf before going to video.
- As if being shelved by Dream Works / Paramount for years before its 2012 theatrical release wasn't enough, Paramount cancelled the British release of A Thousand Words following its terrible American reception - and thus it went straight to DVD.
- The 2004 film Envy, starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black, was released straight to DVD in all of Europe following its negative American reception.
- Liam Neeson signed up for Taken thinking it was going to be released this way.
- The pioneer of this for spin-offs of TV series was probably the Babylon 5 spin-off The Lost Tales, which was intended to be the first of a series of DVDs until J Michael Straczynski decided that he couldn't tolerate the artistic limitations created by the low budget (which many cynical people translated as "not even enough completist fans bought it for it to make any money").
- Stargate SG-1 has two direct-to-video sequel movies : Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate Continuum.
- The annual Super Sentai team-up films that started with Ohranger vs. Kakuranger were originally straight-to-video releases until Go-onger vs. Gekiranger, in which they started getting theatrical premieres instead.
- Gogo-V had a tie-in video titled Clash! The New Super Warrior (aka Gogo-V vs. Zeek), which focused on a new hero created just for the movie in order to make up for the lack of a Sixth Ranger in the actual show.
- Samurai Sentai Shinkenger and Tensou Sentai Goseiger both had "Come Back!" specials that were released on home video after their respective finales were aired.
- Its Western counterpart had an unintentional example: The finale for Power Rangers Samurai was first released on Netflix almost a week before it aired and as part of the DVD boxset days later. Saban had planned the DVD to release days after the finale aired, but Nickelodeon pushed the show back a week when it came back from hiatus so the DVD got out first.
- Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was a direct to video movie.
- Many BBC panel games in The Nineties made special episodes only released on VHS, including Have I Got News for You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. The "will never be seen on TV" advertising was sometimes mocked by the later examples with jokes along the lines of "...except when you watch it by putting the tape into the VCR".
- As British fans of Breaking Bad, Damages and other American TV series have discovered, it is possible for them to go direct to DVD in the UK once their broadcasters (FiveUSA for the former, BBC1 for the latter, and FX for both) have dropped them and if no other channel picks them up (although Netflix has since come to the rescue for both of these shows, among others).
- In the run of Peanuts animated specials:
- It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown (1996, made in 1992 for TV but unaired until after the video release)
- It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown! (1997)
- It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown (2000)
- Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown (2003)
- Happiness Is A Warm Blanket Charlie Brown (2011). This is the first Peanuts special produced without the involvement of longtime producer Bill Melendez, who died in 2008. The artwork in the special is actually an Art Shift that reflects the classic early drawing style of the Peanuts specials of The Sixties.
- In a rare example of a decent DTV, the BIONICLE films.
- The first three, anyway...
- The My Little Pony cartoons' longer G3 "Core 7" and Spin-Off Babies G3.5 Once Upon A My Little Pony Time shorts.
- The majority of video game franchises from the 1980s and 1990s originally began as arcade games and are nowadays released directly to consoles. Even during the "Golden Age" of the arcades (the 80s and 90s), some of these franchises already had a few made-for-console sequels.
- Most of the Open Season franchise.
- Starting in 1994 with The Return of Jafar, Disney released direct-to-video sequels, prequels, and interquels to a significant portion of the Disney Animated Canon, animated by the company's various television animation units. At first they were follow-ups to The Renaissance Age of Animation titles, but they gradually shifted back to films from the Golden and Dark ages. There were also a few titles based on Classic Disney Shorts characters and Winnie-the-Pooh, while at least one film (Atlantis: Milo's Return) was a Compilation Movie consisting of the completed episodes of an aborted TV spinoff. In The New Tens, Disney's only efforts in this vein are the Tinkerbell CGI films.
- Ironically there were a few Disney sequels that did get theatrical runs Return to Neverland and Jungle Book 2. This was meant to continue with Lilo and Stitch 2 and Lion King 1/2 (hence why they have higher production values) but due to the disappointment of the previous two films, decided to continue the Direct-To-DVD tread.
- And the Tinker Bell movies are shown at the El Capitan so they can be nominated for an Oscar, but it never seems to happen.
- Pixar is significant for averting this. Disney asked Pixar to produce a DTV sequel to Toy Story, which was turned over to a secondary production crew. Disney was so impressed with the work they were doing that they wanted to expand the runtime from the projected 60 minutes so it could be theatrically released, but John Lasseter didn't like the direction it was taking, and so had the script entirely rewritten and put the entire crew from the first film on the project in order to finish it within the 9 months left on their deadline.
- The Land Before Time series, with 12 sequels that all went straight-to-video.
- And then finally, Universal decided to produce an animated series.
- The same studio also created sequels for Balto and for An American Tail (see below).
- Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story and the four Futurama direct-to-DVD movies were made with intent of ultimately cutting the episodes up for airing on TV as three-parters and four-parters respectively. Though in the case of Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, the movie is considered the definitive cut and as such, the TV edit "episodes" are omitted from DVD releases. The DVD also has about 20 minutes of bonus footage (involving the "premiere" of the movie in theaters and a fourth-wall breaking after party where the characters discuss the real-life cancellation of the series) that was not shown on TV. The four Futurama movies sold so well and got such a positive reaction from fans that they continued the series.
- The third and fourth An American Tail movies, which screwed with the canon by putting Fievel back in New York City, making Fievel Goes West All Just a Dream, and omitting characters from the first movie.
- The travesty that is The Secret Of NIMH II.
- Humorously, in Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, the credits claim it went straight to video because "it's that darn good" (which is probably more true than they're joking, since the movie is basically an OVA, as it was done by TMS in Japan).
- Video Brinquedo does this a lot, as does Spark Plug Entertainment.
- Animaniacs Alternate Universe film, Wakko's Wish.
- A few Phineas And Ferb episodes were released on DVD before airing on TV.
- "One Good Scare Ought to Do It!" made its US debut on the DVD The Fast and the Phineas, over two months before its US TV premiere on Disney Channel.
- "Unfair Science Fair" and "Unfair Science Fair Redux" (Another Story) made their US debut on the DVD The Daze of Summer, around a week before their US TV premieres on Disney XD.
- "The Doof Side of the Moon" made its US debut on the DVD A Very Perry Christmas, three days before its US TV premiere on Disney Channel.
- Recess Taking The Fifth Grade and Recess: All Growed Down were both DTV movies, consisting of unaired episodes and linking material.
- Recess: School's Out was planned as this, but Disney wanted a theatrical release due to the show's popularity. With an expansion of the plot and an Animation Bump, it turned out to be a success. In a few foreign areas, it was released as this, though, particularly in areas where Recess wasn't much heard of or not as popular than in other countries.
- All of the Tom And Jerry films except for the first one.
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a borderline case. Intended as DTV, it received a short theatrical run with no alterations.
- DC now has a whole series of direct-to-DVD animated films, from Warner Premier. The fact that they are Direct-to-Video has absolutely no bearing on their quality.
- Several episodes of Rugrats were originally released on VHS before premiering on television.
- The Powerpuff Girls Movie, while released in the U.S theatrical (and sadly bombing due to lousy marketing from Warner Bros.) was released in foreign markets straight to DVD. Subsequently many of Cartoon Network Made For TV movies were also released this way as well.
- Alvin And The Chipmunks has three: Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein, Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman and Little Alvin and the Mini-Munks.
- There is a series of Scooby-Doo movies that are Direct to Video. Some of which have surprising quality.
- Several SpongeBob episodes were released on DVD before they aired on television. An extreme example would be the DVD Bikini Bottom Adventures—at the time when the DVD was released, none of the episodes were on television at the time.
- "SpongeBob Meets the Strangler" and "Pranks a Lot" were released the VHS/DVD release The Seascape Capers before airing on TV.