There seems to have been a lot of confusion regarding the recent announcement that one of the Pokémon movies released earlier this year in Japan would be headed to US theaters in a limited release covering “more than 300” screens. While it might seem unusual, this is not the first time a Pokémon movie has been shown in on a limited number of screens.
Contrary to what some may believe, the theatrical distribution of Pokémon movies in the US did not end with Pokémon 3: The Movie in 2001. After a long delay (the gap between the first, second, and third movies was eight or nine months), it was finally revealed that the fourth movie, now called Pokémon 4Ever, would be making its way to theaters in October of 2002. What wasn’t initially known, however, was that the movie would initially be shown only on about 250 screens in select markets as part of a limited distribution.
Truth be told, 250 is actually a lot better than what most limited release movies ever get. Many of them never expand beyond New York and Los Angeles. Even the acclaimed The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters never made it out of the fifties. According to the 2000 census data (and my memory of which markets were included), these 250 screens were enough to cover about 40% of the US population.
As for how the movie did, when Pokémon 4Ever was released, it grossed a little over $700,000 in its opening weekend (which works out to a little less than $2,900 a screen). After a few weeks, the film transitioned from the larger markets down to the smaller ones. Pokémon Heroes would follow a similar pattern in 2003.
Since then, there have been various theatrical exhibitions of Pokémon movies, typically as part of a special event. Most recently, Zoroark: Master of Illusions, the thirteenth movie, was shown at the Pokémon Black and White Mall tour earlier this year. Still, no movie has been shown commercially on anything approaching the scale of this upcoming release in over eight years.
Unlike in 2002, Pokémon the Movie: White-Victini and Zekrom is being distributed via digital cinema, which has a lower cost versus distributing on film. Additionally, the movie is being shown on two days only, December 3rd and 4th. The smaller viewing window could lead to more packed theaters, but the fact that this is a limited-time event could also end up leaving more people out, with the exact number depending on the geographic distribution of the locations.
Cinedigm press release
Cinedigm movie minisite
Pokémon 4Ever box office statistics
Pokémon Heroes box office statistics
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters box office statistics
2000 US Census data (Excel)
Wikipedia article on digital cinema