Question: Why do some movies go directly to video? Is it because they're not good enough to open in theaters? — Nmicleiny

Flickchick: This is a more complicated question than you realize. First, a lot of movies people think are direct-to-video are cable movies, which tend to have lower budgets than theatrical features. When you're marketing a $75 million dollar movie, the name of the game is broad appeal and secondary sales, which is why so many movies today are simplistic and action oriented. Many Hollywood production executives and filmmakers subscribe to the view that when people shell out $10.00 for a ticket and another $5.00 for popcorn, they want to see something spectacular, so they spend big bucks on special effects (not just monsters, but car chases, airplane explosions, spectacular fires and crowd scenes). They also hire the biggest name actors on the market, on the theory that they'll help draw people into theaters. Pay cable (where you can have nudity, violence and bad language that wouldn't be acceptable on broadcast TV) has in recent years become the home of both lower budgeted genre pictures and movies with niche appeal. Wit, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, starring Emma Thompson and directed by Mike Nichols, recently debuted on HBO: It was certainly good enough to have opened in theaters, but the somber subject matter would have been a hard sell. If you don't have premium cable service, it's easy not to realize where those films came from when they turn up on tape.

In addition, sometimes movies that are made in the expectation that they'll be released theatrically wind up debuting on cable. The ensemble drama Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her (2000), featuring Cameron Diaz, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter, was supposed to be released theatrically by MGM. But like Wit, it's not the kind of thing that sets box office records — five loosely connected stories about women dealing with their problems doesn't pack the same kind of punch as The Mummy Returns. So it debuted on cable and it will be available on tape in July.

And some movies are made for the video market. Direct-to-video productions are usually genre pictures — heavy on the horror, action/adventure and erotic thriller elements — but don't have the expensive production values, effects and stars that distinguish similar theatrical films. Some of them are as well written and directed as big budget movies, but most of them aren't "good enough" to compete head-to-head in theaters with movies featuring state-of-the-art effects and big name actors. Direct-to-video productions tend to be cast heavily with unknowns, sweetened with recognizable names in the leading roles. The recognizable names are generally actors who have TV credits or play secondary roles in theatrical features, but get to shine in direct-to-video pictures — think Eric Roberts, Rutger Hauer or Lance Henriksen — as well as performers whose careers are almost exclusively in video productions, like action specialists Cynthia Rothrock and Olivier Gruner, or erotic thriller fave Shannon Whirrey. And, of course, direct-to-video has become a haven for actors whose careers are on the skids. We'll take the high road and let you fll in those names.