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The summer movie event of 2020 was released in 2014

Paramount Pictures
Back to the future.
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter


What do rock bands do when they’ve run out of new songs? They release a greatest hits album, of course. For the film industry, it’s pretty much the same.

The pandemic forced movie theaters in most countries to close indefinitely in March. Hollywood studios subsequently delayed the theatrical releases of their blockbuster movies that were scheduled to come out this summer. Though many theaters around the world have since reopened (with reduced capacity), they now have nothing new to show audiences.

So they’re playing the hits.

In the US, where the only cinemas open for business are drive-ins and a smattering of independently-owned theaters, three of the four highest-grossing films of the weekend were re-releases of classics: The Goonies, Jurassic Park, and Back to the FutureGrease placed sixth. None of the films made more than $150,000.

Chinese audiences, meanwhile, were treated with the pandemic equivalent of a blockbuster summer movie event. Interstellar, which was first released in 2014, re-entered theaters in China on Aug. 2 and made $2.6 million. That’s the biggest single-day box-office total for any movie anywhere since theaters reopened.

China’s theaters started reopening in “low-risk” areas on July 20. Since then, more theaters have resumed operations with social distancing and limited capacity rules in place (most are only allowing about 30% of seats to be filled). But no film had grossed more than $1.5 million in a single day until the re-release of Interstellar, according to Chinese box-office tracker EntGroup. As of this writing, Interstellar has already made another $1.5 million in China today—more than double the daily gross of the next closest film, Dolittle.

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller was popular in China during its original 2014 run, raking in $111 million at the box office there in addition to its $590 million haul everywhere else. That the film is still drawing an audience in 2020 is a relatively positive sign for Nolan’s next film, Tenet, which after several delays will finally come out Aug. 26—wherever theaters are open. (It is scheduled for release Sept. 3 in the US. Major chains like AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas plan to reopen many of their locations a few weeks prior.)

Until then, Hollywood studios desperate for any theatrical revenue will continue re-releasing old movies. Even if Tenet is a success, theaters will still need to show other movies this fall—and the slate of new films is looking rather sparse. Outside of Tenet, the global box office for the second half of 2020 will consist of several films that came out many years ago.

On Aug. 14, theaters in China will begin showing a 4K restoration of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—the biggest hit of 2001.

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