Terrence Malick‘s new film To the Wonder played Venice and TIFF this month, to middling reviews that occasionally seemed uninterested in viewing the film as anything other than a minor “in-between” film from the director. Featuring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, and Javier Bardem, the movie is a small romantic drama; not the sort of thing to inspire mad box office success in times such as these. But Magnolia Pictures has taken the plunge with Malick, acquiring To the Wonder for a 2013 release. But how many people will get to see the film on the big screen?

The interesting thing about this deal is that Magnolia, which picks up a lot of great films, tends to release features on the big screen in only a few major markets, with the biggest push often saved for VOD. Terrence Malick is seen as a cinephile’s director, which means that people want to see his movies on the big screen. That may not be possible for many people with this movie.

It’s easy to rail against Magnolia’s business model, but the fact is that a film like To the Wonder isn’t likely to make much money at all. The Tree of Life had the cache of being Malick’s long-awaited return to the screen, and also the appeal of being an eon-spanning story. To the Wonder, by all accounts is a much smaller thing. When Fox Searchlight, which marketed the hell out of Tree, saw only a $13.3m domestic return despite all the interest in the film, what can Magnolia (or anyone) expect from To the Wonder? Not much, financially. As Anne Thompson said of Fox Searchlight’s efforts with Tree, “nobody made money on that deal,” and this new film seems much less likely to generate revenue.

Making money isn’t the only thing when distributing films such as Malick’s, but his fans might have to start getting used to the idea that his newly increased output has a downside: it reduces the Malick mystique, which means that in the crowded distribution game we might not get the red-carpet big screen rollout for all his new pictures.

Here’s the synopsis of To the Wonder; we’ll pass along a specific release date, and hopefully a trailer, soon.

After visiting Mont Saint-Michel — once known in France as the Wonder — at the height of their love, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) come to Oklahoma, where problems soon arise. Marina makes the acquaintance of a priest and fellow exile (Javier Bardem), who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane (Rachel McAdams). Written and directed by Terrence Malick, TO THE WONDER is an exploration of love in its many forms.

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