Again, this article is old and it does not take account of new release patterns such as the one devised by Warner Bros for "Jesse James". Yet it is helpful for definitions, etc.
Types of Release Patterns
Industry Analysis by Anthony Leong, Lara Kalins, Oren Levy, Marion De Marcillac, and Annekatrin Scholze
© Copyright 1996
The most common release pattern, in which the film is released nationally in all markets. This is the pattern used by the majors, since this type of release pattern requires a heavy investment in prints and national advertising, which while having reach into all markets, is expensive. With a wide release, the producers and distributors can realize revenues to recoup their investment in a shorter time period (provided that the film is successful). Finally, revenues from videocassette sales can also be realized faster from a quickly-executed theatrical release (the shorter the time period between the theatrical release and the videocassette release, the greater the potential for videocassette income).
The Modified Wide Release
The film will open in a few major markets and expand week by week to build awareness and allow positive word-of-mouth reputation to develop. This type of release would initially be supported spot advertising (advertising in a specific geographical area, such as a city) and may move to national advertising once it expands to other markets.
Exclusive and Limited Runs
Exclusive and limited runs begin with engagements at a limited number of screens, traditionally in large urban areas, such as Toronto. Based on favourable reviews and positive word-of-mouth, the film may move slowly to additional theatres. This release pattern is almost always used for upscale 'arthouse' or foreign films and may be part of a platforming strategy, where critical acclaim in an important market will assist in providing momentum for a wide release.
Territorial saturation involves saturating a territory with bookings, heavy advertising and promotion, before moving on to another territory. This method would be used for films tailored to specific markets. In Canada, this would be seen with French-language films, which primarily would be well-received only in Quebec. It is also used by independent distributors for exploitation or family movies.