DreamWorks contracted Amazon.com to create the official website, marking the first time that Amazon had created a special section devoted to a feature film. The website included an overview, a photo gallery, cast and crew filmographies, and exclusive interviews with Spacey and Bening. The film's tagline—"look closer"—originally came from a cutting pasted on Lester's workplace cubicle by the set dresser. DreamWorks ran parallel marketing campaigns and trailers—one aimed at adults, the other at teenagers. Both trailers ended with the poster image of a girl holding a rose.[nb 12] Reviewing the posters of several 1999 films, David Hochman of Entertainment Weekly rated American Beauty 's highly, saying it evoked the tagline; he said, "You return to the poster again and again, thinking, this time you're gonna find something." DreamWorks did not want to test screen the film; according to Mendes, the studio was pleased with it, but he insisted on one where he could question the audience afterward. The studio reluctantly agreed and showed the film to a young audience in San Jose, California. Mendes claimed the screening went very well.[nb 13]
The film had its world premiere on September 8, 1999, at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. Three days later, the film appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival. With the filmmakers and cast in attendance, it screened at several American universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, New York University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Austin, and Northwestern University.
On September 15, 1999, American Beauty opened to the public in limited release at three theaters in Los Angeles and three in New York.[nb 14] More theaters were added during the limited run, and on October 1, the film officially entered wide release[nb 15] by screening in 706 theaters across North America. The film grossed $8,188,587 over the weekend, ranking third at the box office. Audiences polled by the market research firm CinemaScore gave American Beauty a "B+" grade on average.[nb 16] The theater count hit a high of 1,528 at the end of the month, before a gradual decline. Following American Beauty 's wins at the 57th Golden Globe Awards, DreamWorks re-expanded the theater presence from a low of 7 in mid-February, to a high of 1,990 in March. The film ended its North American theatrical run on June 4, 2000, having grossed $130.1 million.
American Beauty had its European premiere at the London Film Festival on November 18, 1999; in January 2000, it began to screen in various territories outside North America. It debuted in Israel to "potent" returns, and limited releases in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Finland followed on January 21. After January 28 opening weekends in Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Norway, American Beauty had earned $7 million in 12 countries for a total of $12.1 million outside North America. On February 4, American Beauty debuted in France and Belgium. Expanding to 303 theaters in the United Kingdom, the film ranked first at the box office with $1.7 million. On the weekend of February 18—following American Beauty 's eight nominations for the 72nd Academy Awards—the film grossed $11.7 million from 21 territories, for a total of $65.4 million outside North America. The film had "dazzling" debuts in Hungary, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and New Zealand.
As of February 18, the most successful territories were the United Kingdom ($15.2 million), Italy ($10.8 million), Germany ($10.5 million), Australia ($6 million) and France ($5.3 million). The Academy Award nominations meant strong performances continued across the board; the following weekend, American Beauty grossed $10.9 million in 27 countries, with strong debuts in Brazil, Mexico and South Korea. Other high spots included robust returns in Argentina, Greece and Turkey. On the weekend of March 3, 2000, American Beauty debuted strongly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and in Singapore, markets traditionally "not receptive to this kind of upscale fare". The impressive South Korean performance continued, with a return of $1.2 million after nine days. In total, American Beauty grossed $130.1 million in North America and $226.2 million internationally, for $356.3 million worldwide.
American Beauty was released on VHS on May 9, 2000 and on DVD with the DTS format on October 24, 2000. Before the North American rental release on May 9, Blockbuster Video wanted to purchase hundreds of thousands of extra copies for its "guaranteed title" range, whereby anyone who wanted to rent the film would be guaranteed a copy. Blockbuster and DreamWorks could not agree on a profit sharing deal, so Blockbuster ordered two thirds the number of copies it originally intended. DreamWorks made around one million copies available for rental; Blockbuster's share would usually have been about 400,000 of these. Some Blockbuster stores only displayed 60 copies, and others did not display the film at all, forcing customers to ask for it. The strategy required staff to read a statement to customers explaining the situation; Blockbuster claimed it was only "[monitoring] customer demand" due to the reduced availability. Blockbuster's strategy leaked before May 9, leading to a 30% order increase from other retailers. In its first week of rental release, American Beauty made $6.8 million. This return was lower than would have been expected had DreamWorks and Blockbuster reached an agreement. In the same year, The Sixth Sense made $22 million, while Fight Club made $8.1 million, even though the latter's North American theatrical performance was just 29% that of American Beauty. Blockbuster's strategy also affected rental fees; American Beauty averaged $3.12, compared with $3.40 for films that Blockbuster fully promoted. Only 53% of the film's rentals were from large outlets in the first week, compared with the usual 65%.
The DVD release included a behind-the-scenes featurette, film audio commentary from Mendes and Ball and a storyboard presentation with discussion from Mendes and Hall. In the film commentary, Mendes refers to deleted scenes he intended to include in the release. However, these scenes are not on the DVD as he changed his mind after recording the commentary; Mendes felt that to show scenes he previously chose not to use would detract from the film's integrity.
On September 21, 2010, Paramount Home Entertainment released American Beauty on Blu-ray, as part of Paramount's Sapphire Series. All the extras from the DVD release were present, with the theatrical trailers upgraded to HD.