Why it took five years for Chris Evans' 'Snowpiercer' to get a UK release

Snowpiercer is not on Netflix
Snowpiercer is not on Netflix

It’s time to rejoice! Snowpiercer is finally available to watch in the United Kingdom on Netflix!

The movie had only been available to rent via Amazon Prime, iTunes and the BFI Player since October 2018, but now Netflix users can watch it in the UK – six whole years after it was first released in 2013.

The Dystopian thriller, based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, is set on a continually moving train carrying the last of the world’s population. The people are split along class lines until the lower classes at the back of the train revolt against the Elite at the front.

Bong’s English language debut, Snowpiercer was critically-acclaimed and stars Chris Evans, Guy Pearce and Tilda Swinton, which makes it all the more surprising that it was never released in UK cinemas or even on disc.

It’s certainly not uncommon for star-studded films to miss a theatrical release on British soil; The Spectacular Now, starring Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller and Brie Larson, went straight to DVD as did the Gugu Mbatha-Raw-led pop star drama Beyond the Lights (2014) while The Immigrant (2013), starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, has only just been given a UK release, albeit via the BFI’s streaming platform BFI Player.

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The film stars Chris Evans and Jamie Bell
The film stars Chris Evans and Jamie Bell

What probably shouldn’t surprise you is that there is a commonality between the delay of The Immigrant and Snowpiercer’s UK release and it comes in the form of Harvey Weinstein.

Beyond the allegations of sexual assault and predatory behaviour, which he is currently facing criminal proceedings for, Weinstein was well known for having a heavy hand with directors and demanding movies were cut and edited to his specification.

Bong had spent seven years bringing this story to life after first coming across the graphic novel in 2005 but in November 2012 (before the film was complete), The Weinstein Company acquired the film’s distribution rights for North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They also secured final cut for those regions and they planned on using that power to the director’s frustration.

Bong said in July 2013, at the Snowpeircer premiere at the Busan Film Festival, that his version of the film to be released in Asia and non-English speaking countries, “would be the only director’s cut you will be able to see.” That director’s cut performed way better than expected upon its full release in South Korea a month later on August 1, 2013, even breaking box office records.

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South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film sold four million tickets in one week, which was the shortest time span for a film to secure that many ticket sales, in South Korean box office history, since Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Iron Man 3. The movie earned $59,802,711 in total just for South Korea but despite its success, The Weinstein Company chose to delay its US release for another year.

Harvey Weinstein had admitted to wanting to cut 20 minutes “and a few other things” in an interview with IndieWire, which Bong refused to do. On June 27, 2014, a US version was released in just eight cinemas and it wasn’t until the distribution rights went to RADiUS-TWC that it was agreed that the director’s cut would be given a two-week release, in October 2014, before being made available via Video on Demand (VOD).

The film was one of the best performers on VOD but data from its release in cinemas showed it could have made a killing if it was given a wider release, as IndieWire pointed out in July 2014:

In an uncertain theatrical world, Weinstein was convinced that the uncut “Snowpiercer” was not a guaranteed success in theaters. But its theatrical performance reveals that it was potentially one of the year’s biggest specialized releases, with the potential to gross between $40-60 million theatrically, perhaps as much as “Grand Budapest Hotel,” the year’s biggest specialty success, which is now just under a $60 million total. Only “Chef” from Open Road has grossed over $25 million as a conventional word-of-mouth theatrical release.

Snowpiercer was given a wider release into 150 US cinemas and at that point, there was also a plan for it to get a UK release too, however, it seems after it failed to perform as well as expected in Australia they chose not to.

Weinstein said in 2015: “I owned Australia on the movie and I told them, go wide. We bombed. I wanted to see it for myself and then every other country, with the exception of France where the comic book is based and South Korea where Bong Joon-Ho is a huge hero, and the movie didn’t work anywhere except for America.”

The only opportunity to see the movie on the big screen in the UK was at the 2014 Edinburgh Film Festival and after that nada. Even on disc, fans desperate to see it were stuck with purchasing imported DVDs and Blu-rays that did not provide English subtitles for the Korean dialogue.

It took four years from that point to it finally being made available on demand in the UK and it’s not quite clear what happened in between, other than Harvey Weinstein choosing not to. However, the cogs started to move towards a release after the allegations against the movie mogul went public in the New York Times in 2017 leading to the demise of The Weinstein Company.

The company filed for bankruptcy in February 2018 which led to private equity firm, Lantern Capital, taking control of its assets and forming Lantern Entertainment.

This new independent film studio currently owns the rights to TWC’s 277-film library, including Snowpiercer, and clearly, it brokered a deal to make it available in the UK to the cheers of many a film fan.

The prequel TV series will be next to hit Netflix – and that has its own behind-the-scenes issues – but for now, enjoy Snowpiercer… finally.