Carl reports on the global impact of COVID-19 and the cinema industry struggling to cope
The Coronavirus has completely destroyed the cinematic year and with it, the large cash that the summer season usually generates. Films that we have come to expect to open and entertain us have either been delayed until later this year or have been pushed back until next year instead. And even though several films have had their dates pushed until later in the year are currently facing up to the undeniable fact that they may not manage to hold onto their spots as the virus spikes in countries and cities around the globe. The American cinemas have been all but wiped out in several locations such as New York and Los Angeles, places where the box office dollars normally flow like water into the cash registers. With these closures, it appears that the big movies that are still upcoming this year will have to blink and move into an already crammed 2021. Or so it was thought.
There is a rumor going around that Hollywood is willing to abandon their normal policies and strategies to open these movies around the globe first and in cities in the United States that are safe enough to be shown in. Marvel and DC films have been opening in Europe up to two weeks before they make their American bows so the president isn’t uncommon. It would make a lot of sense for the studios to make this the exception rather than the rule for the rest of this year. Movie theatres are crying out to reopen and allow customers to take their seats and watch some of the entertainment that has been delayed for so long this year. They need the money, to be honest. Many theatres are struggling financially and even though they will still suffer a huge downturn in their fortunes this year, a run of big movie entertainment would go someway in cushioning the blow and may allow these locations to remain open, ready for the deluge of big-budget fare that will fill their screens next year. It is also feasible to assume that the theatres would have to book extra-long engagement of these movies just so the public can get in to see them. They certainly won’t have any complaints about the choice of films they have to choose from.
‘Tenet‘, Warner Bros’ big hope for the cinema reopening has been pulled from release without a new date of release being given as yet. But to the studios’ credit, they still say they will release it this year but are playing their cards very close to their chests with regards to the strategy they will be employing in regards to releasing the film. All eyes were on the film to see how things would pan out but, as it has been postponed, the attention now turns to Disney’s live-action remake of ‘Mulan‘ instead. Held over from its original March release to first, a late July opening to its current slot of mid-August, everyone is now looking at the film, waiting to see if Disney postpone it further or if it keeps its release slot and opens in a limited capacity in the U.S and/or if it opens around the world in an international release first. China has recently reopened its screens with the restriction that the films being screened must be two hours or under. ‘Tenet‘ is ruled out as it has a two and a half hour running time but ‘Mulan‘ comes in at just under the two-hour mark. Adding to the chances of its opening is because the film, the stars, and the material it is based on is all Chinese influenced, giving it a significant boost in its fortunes.
The next film we must consider is ‘Wonder Woman 1984‘. The much-anticipated sequel once again starring Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior and the DC Comics character has also suffered from shifting release dates. It currently is holding onto an October 2nd worldwide release slot. Once again, however, the film may be just too soon for the New York and Californian theatres to be open once again. ‘Aquaman‘ opened in December of 2018 but it too opened internationally first before it made its American debut and as such, Warner Bros. knows that by launching the film in markets outside the U.S, it is still guaranteed a massive hit. It has been proven before and I have little doubt that the film will be a gigantic hit wherever it opens. Again, it may be an idea to open the film in America in limited release first alongside an international launch. Word of mouth is locked in and when the film opens in California and New York, the audience will be clambering to get in to see the film they’ve heard so much about. Plus it is DC and there is always an audience waiting for their product to hit the silver screen. The original ‘Wonder Woman‘ was critically applauded and its box office was off the charts so there is an audience already built-in for it.
By the same token, Marvel has their audience already lined up for their new offering ‘Black Widow‘. Again, the Marvel films open internationally before the U.S, and again, they make their money before the American audiences get to see them. It is a given. Adding to its fortunes this time around is the fact that it is the first film in the next phase of the Marvel universe. We already know that Scarlett Johansson’s character died during ‘Avengers: Endgame‘ but this spin-off will introduce us to the ‘New’ Black Widow, to be played by the English actress Florence Pugh. This version of the character will be a part of the next generation of Marvel Studios’ movies and will possibly be a part of the new batch of ‘Avengers‘ movies that will be hitting theatres in around five years. The fans are chomping at the bit to see this film and if it keeps its November slot, then once more, the release strategy proposed could come into place again, guaranteeing Marvel that the film will be seen, gaining word of mouth and putting some much-needed money into cash registers and Disney’s pocket.
The film I’m concerned about though is the new James Bond film ‘No Time To Die‘. It could still adhere to this marketing solution BUT…with a runtime of almost three hours, an almost certain ban from Chinese theatres due to its length and the lack of major American cities being able to play it as well as a rumor that Sony, Universal and Eon Productions are seriously contemplating delaying the film until next summer (a move that flopped Stateside with the last Bond film to be released during the summer there, 1989s ‘Licence To Kill‘) and we are left with a problem. Fans around the world will be desperate to see Daniel Craig’s swansong as the world’s least secret, secret agent but by losing two of its biggest markets, the film would face a mammoth task of recouping its budget, even if it were to open internationally. Universal has already delayed October’s ‘Halloween Kills‘ by a year and Bond is due to open three weeks after that film was supposed to open. The signs do not look good for 007 in this respect. I’m a huge James Bond fan and I’m looking forward to watching this latest adventure but for all my hopes that the film MAY keep its release, I cannot honestly say that I’m that confident I’ll be seeing the film hit the big screen this year.
December sees the release of the remake of ‘Dune‘ that is still due for release at Christmas alongside the delayed ‘Top Gun: Maverick‘. Now, I’m not suggesting that Tom Cruise can’t bring home the bacon with his long-gestating sequel to his 1986 breakout role but I have to admit my surprise that the film is still scheduled for this year to open. Having said that though, the film, IF it still opens in December could give the box office a jet-fuelled kick up the backside and end this year on a high. God knows we all need it after these past few months. But where does that leave ‘Dune‘? The film is going to be a big-budget extravaganza, a more faithful adaptation of the Frank Herbert book by all accounts. But will the audience still have the desire to go to the movies even though they have been starved of blockbuster fare for most of, if not all of this year? That is, of course, if it is safe to open theatres in December. By all accounts, at this moment in time, the situation isn’t looking that bright. It has already been said that the American movie theatres probably won’t be fully reopened until the summer of next year. This could be the worst-case scenario but the possibility is there.
People have said, forget going to the movies, release the films on streaming services instead. I’m sorry but although that may come into play many years into the future, it is NOT the way to go. Studios have sunk millions of dollars into these productions and will be expecting to recoup at least their money back. ‘Trolls: World Tour‘ DID manage to rake in dollars but is the excep compare that to a $300million budgeted juggernaut and the difference is night and day. Studios need the theatres to be open and to be showing their movies or they will soon be out of business. There is also the problem of piracy to be concerned about when it comes to staggered worldwide releasing. Or the fact that say, the United Kingdom allows ‘No Time To Die‘ to open as planned. Say the American theatres don’t open fully until the summer of next year. And say that the film hits DVD and Blu-Ray around the world in April or May of 2021 BEFORE the U.S theatres get the chance to screen it. What happens then? The fans who cannot and will not wait for the film to hit their multiplex months after the remainder of the world has seen it will either grab themselves a pirated copy of the film or import a copy on home entertainment from somewhere else in the world that has released it onto a disc. The studio will again lose out financially and that would severely disrupt the output that we have come to know, enjoy, and expect.
It is a catch-22 situation regardless of which way the industry turns. It would appear to some that I’m picking on or picking out the United States in this piece. Please accept my apologies if you think this way, it is not my intention. As the United States is THE big player in movie releases and production, if something hits them hard like this virus pandemic has, then the rest of the world suffers the after-effects and suffers almost as much as America does. I actually feel sorry and devastated for my American friends across the pond as many of them that I know and talk to are hoping, like the rest of us that this terrible pandemic is defeated and contained sooner rather than later. If it is then perhaps we can get back to some semblance of normality and usual service is resumed somewhat. It won’t be the same ever again but we will be allowed to resume our love affair with the cinema.
But Hollywood, the final decision rests with you.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!