The coronavirus pandemic erased the entire 2020 summer movie season. For a while, Hollywood held out hope it’d still be able to release its biggest movies in theaters this fall and winter. But now studios are finally realizing that probably can’t happen either.
Paramount Pictures announced yesterday it is delaying the releases of two highly anticipated blockbuster films again—this time until 2021. A Quiet Place: Part II will move from Sept. 4, 2020 to April 23, 2021, while Top Gun: Maverick will eject out of its Dec. 23 date and now land on July 2, 2021. Both films had already been postponed from their original release dates this summer.
Other studios have made a number of similar announcements recently. Universal rescheduled Halloween Kills—one of the few films the studio hadn’t already pushed to next year—from October 2020 to the same month in 2021. Warner Bros. pushed Godzilla vs. Kong from November of this year to May 2021.
Hollywood studios are in an extraordinarily difficult position. If they wait much longer to release their films in theaters, there might not be any theaters left to show the films. As it is, the major theater chains are hanging on by a thread, generating zero revenue while still having to pay rent. But if studios release movies now, they’ll be doing so without the largest film market in the world (the US) and would be inviting unprecedented levels of piracy as Americans, desperate for new films, could resort to illegally watching recordings from other countries. Neither option is good, but the latter one would at least help the theater industry stave off total annihilation.
Accordingly, several blockbuster films are still up in the air. Disney delayed Mulan again and has not yet announced a new release date for the film. The release of Tenet, the action thriller from director Christopher Nolan that was supposed to usher moviegoers back to reopened theaters, is back on hold as Warner Bros. mulls over a new strategy. The studio could be forced to release the film outside the US—where many theaters have reopened—while waiting for more American theaters to do the same.
Another slate of films meant to dominate the box office during the 2020 holiday season is suddenly in a precarious position as well. This includes Dune, the long-awaited adaptation of the sci-fi novel of the same name, and Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story. Both films are, for the time being, scheduled for worldwide release around Christmas.
These movies would make far too much in ticket sales to bypass a theatrical release entirely. But some relatively less lucrative—but still significant—movies are going digital. Orion Pictures announced yesterday it will make Bill & Ted Face the Music available for on-demand rental on Sept. 1. If any theaters are willing to show the film, they’re welcome to do so, the company said. But, either way, it’s moving forward with a digital release.
Until there is a widely distributed and effective vaccine, no theatrical release date should be considered safe. While experiences will vary by country, moviegoers in many locations shouldn’t expect anything resembling a return to normalcy until spring 2021 at the earliest. With all the delays, 2021 should be a big year for film—if the industry survives 2020.