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(USA TODAY) Veronica Marshas a new case to solve seven years after the teenage private investigator departed prime-time TV and left loyal fans - her "Marshmallows" - wanting more.

After a hugely successfulKickstartercrowd-funding experiment in 2013,Veronica Marshits the big screen Friday but also returns to the small screen via video-on-demand, leaving Hollywood with an intriguing mystery: Can this kind of cinematic vehicle be successful on a wide scale?

"It's a passion project for a lot of those people involved in the TV show," says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "The consumers spoke so loudly that this is like a curtain call for those fans."

Starring Kristen Bell as Neptune, California's camera-carrying kid super-sleuth, Veronica Mars aired for three seasons on UPN and CW and was a critical darling, though not a ratings one. The series averaged only about 2.5 million viewers before its 2007 cancellation.

"For three years, we got to go to work with people we liked doing a job we were proud of, then it got taken away from us," says series creator and Veronica Mars movie director Rob Thomas. "Why not want to go back to that at some point?"

A cult fan base grew, and, combined with those who visited Mars through binge-watching on Netflix and Amazon, it pounced on a chance to bring the show back as a movie. The new story sees Veronica returning to the town she tried desperately to escape for a 10-year reunion and a murder case involving her former beau, Logan Echolls, (Jason Dohring).

Bell and Thomas announced a Kickstarter project a year ago to fund the film and persuade Warner Bros. to distribute it in theaters. It reached its $2 million goal within 10 hours of its launch and totaled $5.7 million and 91,585 backers, one of Kickstarter's most successful campaigns ever.

However, that doesn't automatically equal a financial windfall, says Kate Erbland of the movie websiteFilm School Rejects. Even if all those backers spring for a $10 ticket, that's less than $1 million in box office. "It still feels like the sort of thing that only exists to people who loved it as a show and have never lost hope that it would return."

Movies based on TV properties such asStar TrekandSex and the Cityhave been hugely successful, yet Bock likens the newMarsto 1992'sTwin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which was based on another show with a vocal fan base but made only $4.1 million in fewer than 700 theaters.Marswill open on 270 screens, a fraction of the 3,000-plus that will house the action movieNeed for Speedon Friday.

Case closed? Not so fast.

While VOD used to be a "throwaway option" for studios, Erbland says, now it's a viable mainstream option for smaller features that may not pull in millions of moviegoers. In fact,Marsmarks the first time a major studio has had a simultaneous release on VOD and theatrical platforms.

And if it lights up the VOD market, Erbland adds, "I can foresee plenty of other features going VOD, even ones that have more recognizable cache."

Bock saysVeronica Marscould start a mini trend of bringing back other classic TV shows for one-off movies or small theatrical releases if there's demand. "Your voice really can be heard these days. Maybe we'll get aWonder Yearsreunion movie out of this, too."

Thomas, on the other hand, simply hopes that success opens the door for more of Veronica's adventures.

"In my little fantasy universe, we become the low-budget Bond franchise, and every two or three years, we put out another one," he says. "My end goal is to replace Nancy Drew. She had her 60 years, and I want Veronica Mars to take the next 60."

By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

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