20th Century Fox is rather infamous for this in film as well as television. Some examples include:
Tigerland: dumped into 5 theaters with no advertising.
Ravenous: dumped into 1,000 theaters with limited advertising (and mismarketed as a teen-oriented horror film).
Idiocracy: dumped into 125 theaters with no advertising (due to studio politics and choosing to promote The Marine instead; the film's constant jabs at the FOX network and Fox News might also had something to do with it).
Perfect Creature: dumped into regional release for one week and then released straight-to-DVD.
Sunshine: dumped into 500 theaters after one week of successful limited release and left to die against The Simpsons Movie (Fox apparently did this as they didn't like the international numbers).
Babylon A.D.: taken away from the director, heavily re-edited and released with limited marketing to poor numbers (the director and star later disowned the film).
Whip It: dumped into under 2,000 theaters as Fox spent more time promoting Jennifers Body (also Fox only sneaked the film to bump up the latter's numbers).
127 Hours: dumped by Fox in favor of Love and Other Drugs due to uneasiness over the film's content. Sabotaged again after Oscar announcements when Fox announced the DVD release two days before a hastily scheduled wide release. However, the film has managed to be a hit in the UK (where it was distributed by Warner Bros.)
The Big Year: dumped by Fox despite having three bankable names in the lead roles, an established supporting cast and a director whose last two films grossed over $100 million. The studio also released a trailer that misrepresented the plot of the film and had almost no promotion done for it.
Titan A.E. was given about a year of production time when Don Bluth was put on the project. His team manged to finish the film just barely. And while the film was not a commercial failure, it grossed less than what Fox wanted, and so they decided to close its animation division completely.
Sony Pictures (Columbia/Tri Star/Screen Gems)
Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a rather infamous example of this. It was greenlit by Columbia Pictures, then under the management of eccentric British producer David Putnam, who wanted to make Columbia the anti-Hollywood of the Hollywood studios and flopped miserably. Columbia cleaned house and hired new management who didn't care about the remaining Putnam films, so Munchausen — which had a Troubled Production, sadly typical for a Gilliam film, resulting in an over-$46-million budget to make back — was dumped into 117 North American theaters with next to no publicity. It made only $8 million in the end. It still managed a few Academy Award nominations for its technical strengths (though it didn't win any) and did well with critics; today it's considered one of Gilliam's best films.
The Sam Peckinpah western Major Dundee was taken out of the eccentric director's hands after a troubled shoot, before certain crucial scenes could be filmed, and released with a score he didn't like and missing what key character-focused footage had been shot. A 2005 recut of the film provided a new score and restored what lost footage could be found.
Planet 51 was released on the same day as Twilight Saga: New Moon, and only made $12 million that weekend.
Attack the Block was dumped into just 11 markets with almost no advertising by Screen Gems despite having mostly excellent test screenings and word-of-mouth. Supposedly, Screen Gems wanted to build Paranormal Activity-esque hype on the film but their choices of theatres was completely random and entire markets were shut completely out on the film. There was also no website that listed when theaters would be getting the film.
Peter Bogdanovich'sTexasville, the long-awaited sequel of The Last Picture Show, is another example of getting "Screwed by the Studio" (and Bogdanovich actually used those words to describe it). Columbia Pictures was supposed to re-release Picture Show - which was rarely shown on TV and never released on video at the time - prior to releasing the sequel, a promise that was later reneged. Originally 2˝ hours, Bogdanovich cut 25 minutes off of Texasville, predominantly scenes that would have not made sense to a viewer that had not seen the earlier film. To make matters worse, Columbia subsequently dumped Texasville with limited distribution. A director's cut was released on Laserdisc, and nowhere else.
Dimension Films/The Weinstein Company
Dimension Films does this more then any other film company — they chopped 20 minutes off of The Crow: City of Angels, (most of which were character development scenes and very important plot points) then they released The Crow: SalvationDirect-to-Video after poor test screenings; they cut the planned 2000-plus-screen wide release of Equilibrium down to less than 300 screens because the film was already in profit from international distribution deals and spending money on additional prints or advertising might have ruined those profits; they shelved films like Texas Rangers and My Boss's Daughter for over a year with little explanation. Some films, like Venom and DOA: Dead or Alive were barely advertised at all and given a very limited release. And releasing Scream 4 during the Easter period while all the others were kept for winter (and notably giving it little publicity outside North America — tellingly, this was the only film of the series where none of the cast did any British promotion, although Hayden Panettiere did go to Germany for that purpose)? Bad move.
The indie horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane got screwed out of an American release when the Weinstein Company, which had spent three million dollars for the rights to it, suddenly canceled its planned 2007 release after seeing the disappointing box office returns of Grindhouse and other horror films early that year. They sold the rights to Senator Entertainment US, which has since gone out of business, leaving the film in limbo. To this day, it has not seen the light of day in America outside of bootlegs and festival screenings, and until somebody takes care of the legal mess the film is in, it's unlikely that it ever will. Fortunately, this tale has a happy ending — the film wasreleased in Britain, where it made back its budget two-and-a-half times over and Weinstein Co. FINALLY managed to get the rights to the film back in 2013; it got a limited theatrical release in the US in October of that year.
The Weinstein Company does this a lot in general; they screwed over the Miley Cyrus film So Undercover by pushing it back several times since it was completed in 2010; finally, it got a release date of October 5, 2012, only for that to be changed to a Direct-to-Video release. (However, it did get theatrically released in some overseas territories.)
The Midnight Meat Train was supposed to get a wide release in 2008, but Lionsgate only ended up releasing it in the secondary market to dollar theaters on a grand total of 100 screens, and the film didn't even make back a quarter of its 15 million dollar budget. Clive Barker was outraged at the poor treatment, claiming that Lionsgate shortchanged the film in order to focus more attention of films like The Strangers (which Barker produced).
Similarly by Lionsgate, the Miley Cyrus film LOL was also demoted to a limited release after a year in Development Hell. To make matters worse, they released it the same weekend as The Avengers, which had the largest box-office opening of all time. In fact, the studio didn't even do promotion; they gave those duties to its home video arm.
The 1992 slapstick comedy Brain Donors (a modern-day Three Stooges-meets-The Marx Brothers film starring John Turturro) was originally produced by David andJerry Zucker as Lame Ducks for Paramount. However, when the Zuckers left for another studio, Paramount scrapped the planned publicity campaign, changed the title, and withdrew the film after its initial screenings. It sank into obscurity and has since developed a cult following due to the VHS/DVD releases.
Here is one infamous example not from Fox: Mission Impossible II was taken away from director John Woo and was heavily re-edited as studio executives were skeptical on the elements of the film. It believed that Woo had been locked out from the editing room to prevent him from interfering with their progress.
Paramount did this to Hugo after picking the film from Columbia (due to the film's producer/co-financer wanting to open the film on Thanksgiving and Columbia wanting Arthur Christmas for that spot). Examples include: mismarketing the film as either a comedy or an Inception-style thriller, barely marketing the film before the release, reducing the film's theatre count from 3,000 theatres to just 1,200 a week before opening and choosing to go with a quiet expansion rather than spreading awareness. Not even the film's massive critical acclaim and awards nominations and wins helped Paramount change their minds.
Paramount did the same thing to The Adventures of Tintin in the U.S. by choosing to open the film on the same day as the expansion of another Paramount title, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol. While Mission: Impossible got trailers months in advance, a large IMAX push, heavily-promoted advance screenings and deluxe treatment by Paramount, Tintin was treated as an afterthought (granted, the character and his comics never caught on in the United States) with a light marketing push, limited awareness, and the cancellation of IMAX evening showings. All despite having none other than Steven Spielberg as director and the premiere of the trailer for The Hobbit on select prints. As a result, Tintin was outgrossed on opening day by the third Alvin and the Chipmunks film. The good news here was that the international release was far more successful.note And that was because Sony handled the international release.
Paramount's next stunt was postponing G.I. Joe: Retaliation to March 2013 (after TWO Super Bowl spots no less) when its plum July 4, 2012 weekend release date was only a month away, for two reasons: 3-D conversion (to earn more money) and re-shoots to give Channing Tatum more screentime (while it might lead to Character Development, it is cashing in on a rising star's name). Fans did not take this well to say the least. The studio got what it gave for this decision — since Retaliation was their one self-produced tentpole movie for summer 2012 (The Avengers and Madagascar 3 being distribution-only effortsnote And in the Avengers case, Disney did all the work; Paramount was only chose to distribute it due to Executive Meddling to ensure the Channel Hop. they wouldn't see the bulk of the grosses on), it effectively left them with a hitless summer.note They were also the only Big Six studio not to have a nominee for the Oscar for Best Picture that year, too. For all that, it actually did well at the box office when it finally came out in the spring of 2013, but who knows how much better it might have done had things gone as planned?
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away is a good example of boneheaded thinking when it comes to releasing a niche production (a 3-D Movie compilation of Cirque live show highlights brought together by an Excuse Plot). Paramount released it during the crowded Christmas 2012 period — on the same day as another Paramount release, Jack Reacher, to be exact! And unlike that Tom Cruise vehicle, the Cirque film didn't get a big ad push; given the film's no-star cast, they may not have known how to promote it beyond a trailer, poster, and a TV spot or two. To make matters worse, it only managed two showings per day on the 800-or-so screens it reached in North America, as it was forced to share space with other films. Paramount might have sacrificed better exposure for Worlds Away in an effort to keep Rise of the Guardians — a far more expensive family film that they were distributing for Dreamworks Animation and had surprised the industry with its box-office underperformance — on screens through the season. And to their credit, they did manage wide exposure for Worlds Away’s DVD release the following spring.
Universal Pictures/Gramercy Pictures
Happened to David Lynch with his 1984 film adaptation of Dune. It was such a negative experience that he actually turned down the chance to do a director's cut years later and had his name taken off the extended version that was made without him.
Dazed and Confused tanked in its initial release largely because of two bad decisions by Gramercy Pictures: releasing it in September (when much of its potential audience was heading back to school), and misleadingly promoting it as a Stoner Comedy.
Walt Disney Pictures
Disney released Winnie the Pooh on the same weekend as the final Harry Potter. The reason for Disney's bleak outlook on the film was actually due to its disappointing international numbers (where it flopped against Rio and Hop) and because other Pooh movies haven't fared well theatrically, but have done nicely on DVD. The box-office failure of this movie has caused Disney to seriously reconsider making any future hand-drawn animated films.
Terry Jones' The Wind in the Willows barely got a theatrical release by Disney in the States after its poor box office in the UK. This was despite the New York Times’ glowing review and Variety lashing out against the distributors for burying a terrific film. According to Jones:
"Disney had always been reluctant to do much with it, they didn’t get idea of live action cartoon and wanted to put it straight out on video. I was doing a documentary in New York at the time and remember getting a phone call saying my film was actually playing at a cinema in Times Square. So I rushed down there only to discover it was showing at one of those seedy little porno theatres. Nevertheless I shot off to buy an instant camera just so I could get a photo of its name up in lights on the awning outside, but by the time I got back they’d taken it down again. That’s how long it ran for."
Disney also released The Jungle Book 2 on the same weekend as Daredevil, causing them to reconsider putting sequels in theaters.
Trick 'r Treat was supposed to come out in theaters October 2007. It got dropped from Warner Bros.' schedule, with the guesses being either Warner didn't want it to compete against Saw IV, or they were upset with Michael Dougherty for the disappointing box office on Superman Returns. It eventually got put out on DVD in October 2009.
Happened with The Iron Giant. When Quest for Camelot was a failure, WB assumed it was because traditional animation was dead and not because the movie had many flaws. As a result, WB barely advertised The Iron Giant and dumped it on an August weekend...and thanks to the sleeper smash of The Sixth Sense opening the same day, the extreme critical praise Iron Giant received (a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) didn't help it garner moviegoers. It did get slightly better treatment for the first video release, but the damage was done and it took a few years to become an outright Cult Classic.
Warner Bros. greenlit The Powerpuff Girls Movie in 2000 and budgeted it at $25 million. It was completed at $10 million (leaving the other $15 mil for Warners to sit on) and was released—despite heavy promotion on Cartoon Network—the same day that Men in Black II premiered in North America. It probably didn't help that WB's first live-action Scooby-Doo movie had been a hit with kids a few months prior, since it may have been occupying the studio's attention.
The Apparition: The film was shot in early 2010, but Warner Bros. kept delaying the release until it finally came out in August of 2012. While it hasn't been confirmed, the finished film has all the hallmarks of Executive Meddling with what appear to be heavy cuts and reshoots. The movie was produced by Dark Castle Entertainment, who Warner Bros were just then discontinuing a distribution deal with. The studio not only delivered it two years late, they dumped it into just 810 theatres with little to no marketing - just ONE WEEK before Lionsgate's heavily-marketed, 2,860-theatre release of The Possession. It opened in 12th place at the domestic box office and grossed less than $10 million worldwide against a $17 million production budget.
According to BuzzFeed's article on the film's 20th anniversary, a month before releasing Empire Records, even after forcing director Alan Moyle to cut 40 minutes and several characters, Warner still planned to give it a wide release and advertise it heavily late in September 1994. One test screening in the LA area with a teen audience bore out the hopes that it would be a huge hit with the teen audience. But then, after another one with a mostly Latino teen audience elsewhere in the city, didn't go so well (maybe because all the characters were white, as was the music they listened to?), the studio drastically changed its mind and cut the release to less than a tenth of the theaters originally planned, with no national ads. It took the film a generation to become the Cult Classic it could have become in weeks that year.
Postal, Uwe Boll's film based on the video game, was originally scheduled to be released in 2007, then pushed back to 2008. Three days prior to the U.S. premiere date, its theatrical run was reduced from 1,500 screens to 21 (Boll offered to pay more theatres in New York to screen the film, but they refused). In addition, it was opened against Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. To say it was buried at the theatre is a gross understatement.
Postman Pat: The Movie in the United States: Shout Factory promised to release the film into more theaters after it's NYC/LA release, but it was put onto DVD three months later.