Almost twenty years after its theatrical release, Kevin Smith's Dogma remains arguably the most commercially successful film of his career -- but getting your hands on a copy can be difficult, and somebody finally caught up with Smith on Twitter to ask why.
As it turns out (and as most fans of Smith's work probably knew or could have guessed) it has a little to do with the Catholic League, a little to do with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and a lot to do with the economics of Hollywood at the turn of the century versus now.
"Disney owned Miramax in 1999," Smith answered in a tweet. "Dogma was catching heat from the Catholic League so Disney let the Weinsteins buy the movie themselves (they still personally own the film). Lionsgate released theatrically & Sony did home video. But Digital didn’t EXIST yet when the deal was struck."
That would all begin to change by the time Smith's next big feature film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, came out, with digital bootleggers getting their hands on a pre-VFX copy of the movie and circulating it prior to the film's official release.
The "heat" in question was that the Catholic League was threatening a boycott of Disney if they permitted the film to be released. Disney technically owned Miramax, but had only previously used its veto power to prevent the distribution of one previous film: the 1995 drama Kids. They took a similar stand against Dogma, and getting the film into U.S. theaters ended up being a challenge that took months and required the direct intervention of Miramax's top executives, the Weinsteins.
At the time, it was unclear whether the film would ever see the light of day, but once Lionsgate obtained the distribution rights it became a hit, and one of Smith's best-reviewed movies.
Smith himself, meanwhile, infiltrated a group of Catholic protesters and ended up on the local news complaining about his own movie.
It seems likely that, given both Bob and Harvey Weinstein being drummed out of Hollywood and facing lawsuits and potential criminal charges stemming from sexual harassment and assault accusations, it will be a long time before they are looking to license Dogma again -- especially after Smith has publicly distanced himself from the pair.