| November 11, 2021
Last year, on July 23, I wrote the first “Movie Content Scoreboard.” I am a little early with this final look at the pandemic effect on choices made on theatrical releases.
Front-and-center in the column was a list of The Untouchables… films that seemed, at that point, too significant throw to the whims of exclusive streaming or a theatrical release destabilized by the pandemic. There were 18 titles on the list.
In the year since, two were sold to streamers (Coming 2 America, Connected), two got sucked into Kilar’s Folly – aka the Warner Media dump of all 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical (we’ll see) to HBO Max – (Wonder Woman 1984, The Conjuring 3), 2 were pushed to Disney+ (Mulan PVOD, Soul free), and one was pushed out by Universal with a short theatrical window before PVOD and then, VOD, but with a much longer theatrical life than expected (The Croods 2).
For those counting at home, that would be seven total “untouchable” movies pushing to new platforms in the year, four of which had no theatrical component.
Only two had a pure theatrical launch (Tenet, A Quiet Place II).
And nine of the 18 are awaiting theatrical release: Black Widow, Dune, The Eternals, Free Guy, The King’s Man, The Last Duel, No Time To Die, Top Gun Maverick, West Side Story… with only Dune threatened with a day-n-date theatrical, which many of us think won’t happen.
The was another list of 10 “Potentially Touchable” titles, which is a surprising group in that most ended up not getting touched. Only one went directly to streamer (I’m Your Woman). seven of the titles were held for 2021-2022 dates: the recently theatrical-only Peter Rabbit 2, August release Respect, and the upcoming 355, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Death on The Nile, Deep Water, Rumble. Disney threw the troubled Fox title The New Mutants into an August release last year and Universal released News of the World in theatrical in hopes of a significant Oscar run.
Perhaps most surprising to me is that the indie world held onto so many of its top 2020 titles instead of shuffling them off to streamers. Ianucci’s David Copperfield had a hopeful summer 2020 release and A24’s Sofia Coppola film, On The Rocks, premiered on AppleTV+. Sony ultimately sold off their musical Cinderella to Amazon for September 2021 release, as one does. (Well, Sony and Paramount!) Focus did theatricals for Promising Young Woman and Let Him Go. Sony Classics chased Oscar with The Father.
But Searchlight held onto Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Watiti’s Next Goal Wins, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye, focusing exclusively on their eventual Oscar-winning Nomadland after September. A24 held onto at least three titles. And Focus is about to release Stillwater.
The questions around theatrical in the rest of this eyar remain. There are two elements to the box-office puzzle. One is the size of the overall market, which still hasn’t cracked the $100 million mark for a weekend, which if consistent, would be a sign of a return to normalcy. The other measure is the individual performance of titles. This gets more dicey, as there are excuses available for all the underperformance we have seen in recent months. The average reported box office in the six weekends since A Quiet Place II launched has been $70 million. In the summer of 2019, that average was $171 million. So it’s not unfair to say that we are still under 50% of the way back. Maybe half of that is that the flow of titles has been thin, so you’re not getting holdover business. Single titles didn’t own overall weekends in the 2019 summer as they have in this summer. So maybe we are 60% back. Maybe 65%.
So Black Widow launches this weekend and July has at least one significant wide release each weekend, albeit not all superstars. Two are Warners “Yeah… I guess we can show it in a theater” titles. Jungle Cruise doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to launch velocity, but has the elements. Old is the kind of title one might expect to surprise. Snake Eyes seems caught between Mortal Kombat, a superhero knock-off, and Who The Hell Cares?… but we shall see. Hopefully they will all overperform.
The pandemic is far from behind us. But one can already feel the industry retrenching… even in the Universal/Peacock first pay release window. It’s a change… for television expectations. A four-month window for theatrical to first-pay is about right moving forward. This wasn’t another attack on exhibition, even if media can’t see an inch past its nose these days.
That’s all for now…
| November 11, 2021
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| October 20, 2021
"With Toronto, Telluride, Venice, New York and other key fests opening amid an overcrowded field that includes films postponed from 2020, the acclaim, buzz and distinction festivals bestow on award contenders is more important than ever — especially for spectacles such as Dune, which lose impact on the small screen in hybrid streaming/theatrical releases. Yet the surging Delta variant now threatens to derail premieres, star appearances, in-person screenings and the press, the public’s and Oscar voters’ willingness to attend them.
"On August 27, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences postponed all screenings and in-person events for 2021. And on August 30, despite the U.S. having around 60 times as many COVID-19 cases as Canada and a much lower vaccination rate over the previous four weeks, per Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. State Dept. advised Americans to “reconsider travel to Canada due to [a high level of] COVID-19” there.
“There’s nothing conclusive right now, and everyone is not quite sure how to proceed because of the nature of the COVID pandemic,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard. “Telluride and Toronto have changed what they are going to do dramatically in the last few weeks, putting in a lot more protocols. The New York Film Festival is to be determined—what are they and AFI Fest going to do? Running a festival is like trying to [control] an oil tanker. You can’t just stop it, [and most events] don’t have festival insurance where you can say, ‘COVID shut us down, we gotta get paid.’ It brings up a lot of questions that are really difficult to answer.”
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