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What is Saturation Booking in Film?

Almost certainly anyone that is a fan of the film industry and of seeing new movies hit the box office has encountered what appears to be saturation booking, all be it without realizing that’s what they’re seeing. Saturation booking, or the saturation release, occurs frequently in Hollywood and can be incredibly valuable for the film distributor.

But what is it exactly?


Saturation booking, more commonly referred to as a saturation release, takes place when a new film is released simultaneously. Across multiple theaters in every market of the country on the same day.

We see saturation booking take place rather frequently. We just don’t realize that is has a name and a genuine purpose.

At least, not unless you’re an industry professional that understands the intent of the distributor.


The purpose of saturation booking is to achieve success in rapidly recuperating the costs of production. By opening the film across several thousand theater screens in a single day.

The saturation release is backed by an intense advertising campaign which leads up to the big day. But how effective is it really and how long has this type of distribution been prominent?


The first known instance of a saturation release was in 1975. The film was Jaws. And the goal was to recuperate as much of the production costs at the beginning of the distribution process as possible.

The film had a budget of $12M to produce and recuperating those production costs quickly was incredibly important to Richard Zanuck, David Brown and team.

Box office revenue for the production would total nearly $471M.

Massive promotion of this Summer Blockbuster hit release would draw record number of spectators to theaters over the first four days resulting in $8.92M across 409 theaters.


In the two weeks leading up to the release of Jaws Spielberg, Benchley, Zanuck and Brown, directors and producers behind the film, would travel the U.S.

Reaching major cities in every market to announce or otherwise advertise the film. While states that the cost of the worldwide promotion was small.

Comparative to the results that were achieved with decision to engage in saturation booking. Exact figures associated with the pre-release advertising of Jaws continue to be private to this day.


What we do know is that the advertising campaigns for this film were more costly than any other film distributed by Universal Pictures to date at that time.

Primetime spots on major television channels were secured in all major markets, print media outlets were engaged, and the radio was also used. 


Perhaps you’ve heard of this before, but another term used to describe the process? Sometimes we call saturation booking a saturation release.

Because while the film gets booked for distribution with nationwide theaters. It’s released all at once on the same day. Therefore we frequently use the term saturation release.

You might also hear the term “wide release” used to describe saturation booking. 


Similarly to saturation booking, a wide release represents a plan to release the film across national cinemas in most markets. Or in all markets across the country at the same time.

Saturation booking, or the wide release, is the chosen method of distribution for most films now over the prior roadshow release or roadshow theatrical release.

In which the film opens at limited locations in certain key market areas before it is ultimately opens in a larger viewing area. 


Saturation booking has becoming incredibly popular since the first major instances of a saturation release took place in 1975 with Jaws.

Since then, increasing skills and focus on marketing have proven incredibly powerful in generating substantial following ahead of a film release.

And in boosting box office ticket sales during the initial opening of a film in theaters.


Filmmakers choose saturation booking for a number of reasons. But in today’s competitive environment? Saturation booking is more powerful than ever. Particularly where pirating is concerned.

Films that use a saturation booking method have the ability to draw in substantially higher box office sales revenues than those that are released in a limited scope.

This can be highly effective in establishing the maximum amount of revenue from the film early on to cover production costs.


Opening wide, another term for a saturated release, is pretty much the industry standard for most big-budget blockbuster films these days.

In fact, films sometimes even include wide release expansion across multiple countries in order to maximize sales during the first few days or weeks.

Following the release allowing the filmmaker to recuperate as much of the production costs as possible as quickly as possible.

Some films have even seen worldwide saturation booking or the world-wide release if they’re thought to be popular across the world. 


Today, saturated booking accounts for the majority of major big-hit film releases. Typically, a film that endures a saturated release will hit up to almost 4,500 theaters on the same day.

Although the average is 3,200 theaters for a saturated release. Likewise, a limited release has the same opportunity to be released in nearly 4,500 theaters.

But the average opening occurs in just 2,350 theaters. Additionally, while films can have varying lifespans in theaters.

They tend to spend an average of 98.7 days in theaters with a saturated release vs. 100 days with a limited release. 


All of these figures aside, saturated booking generally results in a film earning four times as much as limited release or limited booking.

Limited booking films may have a lower risk and cost less for theaters. But the greater the risk, the greater the reward!

The saturated booking process results in significantly higher overall revenues in most cases. Therefore representing a win both for the distributor, and for the filmmaker too!