Fandango has just announced “early access” screenings for MGM’s Respect. The Liesel Tommy-directed biopic, starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin, is set to open on August 13. For those so inclined, the film will get a (to quote a centerpiece song from Dreamgirls) “one night only” paid showing on the evening of August 8. So, yes, this is a fancy way of saying Respect will be getting a nationwide sneak preview.
It’s another slight “nature is healing” moment, although Lionsgate sneaked the hell out of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (through Atom and Snapchat) with essentially three nights worth of sneak peaks prior to its opening weekend, but this is the first Fandango-specific sneak I can recall since summer 2019. I actually attended the paid sneak of Rocketman since it was close enough to the actual press screenings and it saved me an hour each way, and I’ll probably do likewise for Respect.
Fandango did a number of sneak previews in late 2018/early 2019, including (offhand) Shazam, Aquaman and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. I don’t recall if they were specifically Fandango-affiliated, but I do remember paid sneaks (or outright free showings) for the likes of Bumblebee, The LEGO Movie part 2 and Alita: Battle Angel prior to their nationwide launches.
Point being, there was a real drive toward actually building positive word-of-mouth and “this is worth seeing in theaters” buzz for a wide variety of movies big (Alita) and small (Knives Out) heading into 2020. There were signs that Hollywood was possibly getting its act together in terms of boosting the commercial potential of studio programmer flicks before Covid upended everything.
Of course, Warner Bros. did their damnedest to get the Film Twitter hype for In the Heights to spread into the real world, with a free nationwide Mother’s Day screening and (ironically?) enough word-of-mouth screenings in the month up to release to satiate almost every moviegoer who otherwise would have bought a ticket on opening weekend. That’s an exaggeration, similar to one we used to joke about in relation to Universal’s 3,916 showings of Peter Jackson’s King Kong (at least in and around Los Angeles) prior to its mid-December launch in 2005.
With respect to Respect, a single night of paid showings in 500 theaters isn’t going to be a deal-breaker for the film’s potential for theatrical success. The film will be preceded on August 8 by a “Rotten Tomatoes Original Pre-Show program.” “Becoming: Aretha,” will feature an interview with Jennifer Hudson and hopefully won’t spoil the hell out of the movie we’re all there to watch.
For what its worth, Fandango’s poll of 2,000 summer moviegoers showed that, among those planning on seeing Respect in theaters, 90% believe it demanded a theatrical experience, 96% are Aretha Franklin fans and 94% are Jennifer Hudson fans. That’s not a shocker, but there you go. If the whole “marquee character plus well-liked actor” thing still holds, “Jennifer Hudson *as* Aretha Franklin” could be a viable theatrical contender.
Come what may, Respect opens in conventional theatrical release on August 13, alongside Ryan Reynolds’ original video game-based fantasy Free Guy and Sony’s horror sequel Don’t Breathe 2 (which was a sequel to a breakout horror original). So, yeah, as summer comes to an end and Fall begins in earnest, we’re going to see a lot more movies in theaters beyond just horror biggies and a few choice “willing to take the hit” tentpoles. If you want to see more than just tentpoles in theaters, well, you’ll get your chance starting next week with Matt Damon’s Stillwater.