‘Emma’: Why the Movie’s Director Says Its Early On-Demand Release ‘Feels Wonderful’

Everything has changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And while it’s not the top concern right now, that most certainly includes Hollywood. With citizens encouraged to stay in their homes, studios began clearing the March, April, and now May release schedules. And that was even before movie theaters across the nation began closing up.

As the seriousness of the current health crisis began to build, the entertainment industry responded in kind. Now productions have stalled across the board. And studios have begun to release early 2020 films for home release weeks or even months ahead of schedule.

Universal was one of the first to make such a movie, with Emma among the first 2020 movies self-quarantined citizens could rent on their favorite on-demand platform.

Anya Taylor-Joy, Autumn de Wilde, and Bill Nighy
Anya Taylor-Joy, Autumn de Wilde, and Bill Nighy | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The box office run of ‘Emma’ was cut short

Emma is based on the iconic 1815 Jane Austen novel. The story centers on a young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who involves herself in the romances of those around her. The source material has, of course, been adapted countless times, including a 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Emma was also loosely adapted into the classic 1995 comedy Clueless.

Riding a wave of strong critical notices, the new Emma performed solid business at the box office. The film only arrived in select theaters on Feb. 21, giving it just a few weeks before movie theaters began to shut down. Yet, the production managed to land the highest per-screen average of any movie thus far in 2020.

With a worldwide box office total of $25 million, Emma might have turned out to be even more of a sleeper hit under different circumstances. Yet, Universal released the film to on-demand services on March 20. The studio released several other 2020 films, including controversial thriller The Hunt and horror reboot The Invisible Man, online the same day.

Director Autumn de Wilde reacts to her film’s early home release

Despite her film’s short box office run, Emma director Autumn de Wilde was not disappointed. Although she “would have loved to have seen how it was going to do,” de Wilde told Variety she was heartened by how many people took to social media to support Emma as social distancing began to take hold.

“They were all writing to me, begging me,” she said. “Please ask them to release it on demand! All I want to do when I’m stuck in my house is watch Emma! … A lot of the people asking had seen it three times in the theater — and it just was so amazing to have that support.”

So when she learned her film received an early on-demand release, de Wilde was actually relieved. Even though she worries about how the coronavirus pandemic may affect movie theaters long-term, at least Emma can provide solace during a stressful time.

“I’m not thinking in terms of like, ‘Oh, my movie got interrupted.’ I’m thinking, this is amazing! If I could even help those people with something I’ve made, that feels wonderful,” de Wilde told Variety. “I think that we all want theaters to survive this too — really badly. And I’m committed to that.”

The inspiration behind ‘Emma’

The new Emma might be doing its small part to ease the inconvenience of self-isolation. But for de Wilde — who made her feature directorial debut with the film — even the movie’s inception stemmed from the political landscape. In the Variety piece, she claims Emma‘s creation served as a cure for her “Trump depression” and hopes it has the same effect on viewers.

“I’ve always really valued escape — things that transport you and take your mind off of something,” she said. “There’s a lot of fun made of romantic comedies, but I think that it is a really healing place for people.”

de Wilde has yet to line up her next project, but she is reportedly entertaining a number of offers. If Emma is any indication of what she might be capable of, we’re curious to discover her next move. Until then, at least fans can check out her first film from the comfort of their own homes.