What Happened to Movies This Year?

Since its identification in early December, COVID-19 has had widespread effects across public health, travel, and business sectors. With theaters closed due to the pandemic (for good reason), the entertainment industry has clearly felt the repercussions, from disruptions in film distribution, delayed or canceled movie releases, to the postponement of movie festivals. While these ramifications undoubtedly pale in comparison to the global loss of human life, I wanted to look at some of the significant developments that have occurred in the film and entertainment industry in response to the pandemic.

Number 1 - So which films have been delayed?

In preparation, I revisited my Most Anticipated 2020 Movies article that I wrote back in January. Since the pandemic declaration on March 11, nine out of the twelve unreleased films were either delayed by several months or indefinitely. Among the films that have retained their release dates, the most notable is Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which is still set to be released on July 17, the earliest out of all three. Most of the major film distributors have announced new release dates for their upcoming films, listed below:

Warner Bros.

  • In the Heights, now June 26, 2020
  • Wonder Woman, now August 14, 2020
  • The Batman, now October 1, 2021

Disney

  • Mulan, now July 24, 2020
  • Jungle Cruise, now July 30, 2020
  • Black Widow*, now November 6, 2020
  • The French Dispatch, now October 16, 2020
  • Soul, now November 20, 2020

* This has resulted in a domino effect of MCU film release delays, reaching all the way into 2022

Sony

  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife, now March 5, 2021
  • Morbius, now March 19, 2021

Miscellaneous

  • A Quiet Place Part II, now September 4, 2020
  • No Time to Die, now November 25, 2020
  • Fast and Furious 9, now April 2, 2021

Hand holding remote pointed at tv screenNumber 2 - What about digitally released films?

As most are probably aware, one film distributor has made sure that those who are quarantined will still be able to watch newly released films at home. On March 16, NBCUniversal announced their plans to release a selection of movies for rental on the day they were supposed to go into theaters. We saw films like The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma released on services like Amazon Video, Comcast, and Vudu for rental beginning March 20. And more recently, Trolls World Tour was released on April 10 to unprecedented success. Trolls World Tour reportedly earned around $95 million in the span of 19 days, breaking several streaming records along the way. This leads us to two important conclusions: (1) parents are quickly running out of ways to entertain their children, and (2) the move to release films directly to on-demand services just became very appealing to film distributors.

And then, NBCUniversal declared war. Ok, I’m being slightly dramatic – last Tuesday, after NBCUniversal shared the news of Trolls’ on-demand success, CEO Jeff Shell told WSJ: “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats”. Almost immediately, we got a response from AMC, the largest movie theater chain in the world, declaring that Shell’s remarks were “categorically unacceptable.” Further, “Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theatres globally on these terms. … Accordingly, we want to be absolutely clear, so there is no ambiguity of any kind. AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.”

As movie streaming becomes more and more popular by the year, it’s unsurprising that AMC reacted so aggressively; the pandemic simply exacerbated the brewing tensions already felt between movie theaters and distributors. The theatrical window – the amount of time a movie must play exclusively in theaters before being released on-demand – has commonly been around 90 days. Of course, studios would prefer to shorten the window as much as possible, while theater chains aim to expand it. However, it’s clear that the exhibitors have started to lose their leverage when it comes to the debate, with many theaters facing potential closure due to lack of revenue. Only time will tell if the two can negotiate a happy medium when films begin to release in theaters in the summertime.

oscars ceremony academy awardsNumber 3 - Let’s give Trolls World Tour an Oscar

Another sweeping declaration was made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last Tuesday: films can qualify for the 2021 Oscars without screening for at least one week in a LA-area theater. Basically, this means that films released only for streaming are now eligible to win an Oscar next year. So, what does this imply? Simply stated, until now the Academy has used this distinction to assert that a “movie” is something you watch in a theater, not through a streaming service. While this certainly sounds like an old-fashioned ideal, I actually agree that watching a film like Interstellar on my laptop will never compare to sitting in a movie theater. However, it’s also ignorant to suggest that all exclusively streamed films are inherently worse or less qualified than those shown in theaters. Because of these changes, smaller films that managed to garner early acclaim, such as The Assistant and Never Rarely Sometimes Always, could have a fighting chance to get nominated for some Oscars next year. And the question remains of what will happen to films that were set to release at prestige film festivals such as those held in Venice and Toronto (both have stated that they will go forward in some form in late August/early September). But for the time being, I think we should just hand all of the Oscars to Trolls World Tour for entertaining bored children everywhere, right?