Paramount also went through several regime changes along the way, which some observers believe delayed the release. But Colligan said that corporate drama played no role. "This was not a movie that was going to spoil in some way," she said. "We just wanted to look for the play period that gave us the best opportunity to find the biggest audience for this movie."
Those opportunities include a mix of targeted marketing and bigger spends. Ads on broad network shows such as "The Voice," "The Bachelor" and "Saturday Night Live" have been matched with spots in more targeted African American venues, such as a sponsorship on "Tyler Perry's House of Pain" and a week-long promotion on BET. Much of the television campaign has skewed female, with "Real Housewives," "Khloe and Lamar" and Lifetime's "Dance Moms" also in the mix.
Meanwhile, Murphy has done minimal press, appearing on no late-night or morning talk shows; he did sit for a junket day.
By spending years in the cupboard, "Words" joins a list of long-delayed studio movies. while Its lag is of a similar duration to another Paramount picture, the Renée Zellweger thriller "Case 39," which came out in 2010 despite shooting in 2006. But the studio can take solace in the fact it doesn't hold the record in this department: Fox Searchlight's 2011 release "Margaret" was on the shelf for nearly six years. Neither film performed well.
Staff writer John Horn contributed to this report.