What Happened to the Summer Movies?

With COVID-19 changing the summer movie season, here’s what moved, what’s streaming, and what’s at the drive-in.

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“Summer Movie Season” has been a familiar notion in America for decades. That’s when the crowd-pleasing blockbusters and movies targeted at the kids who are fresh out of school hit the screen. Since the early 2000s, the start of Summer Movie Season kicks off the first weekend in May as studios tie genre releases to Free Comic Book Day to give their big-tent films an extra boost. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, the Summer Movie Season had to make radical adjustments, resulting in three parallel narratives: the push of some films to fall dates, the shifting of other films to streaming platforms, and the unlikely success of “The Wretched” (and now, “Becky”) at drive-in theatres. Sit back, ladies and gentlemen; we’ve got ourselves a triple feature.

Part I: Where Did the Movies Go?

As with any regular summer season, the summer of 2020 was set to be chock-full of blockbuster movies. Those included Mulan, A Quiet Place 2, Black Widow, James Bond installment No Time to Die, Scoob!, Wonder Woman 1984, Pixar’s Soul, Top Gun: Maverick, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and more. When the threat of the pandemic became clear in March, studios began rapidly moving pictures to other dates or, in some cases, to other platforms. With some indoor theater chains preparing to open in June, we can take a look at where some of these expected big movies have settled. (Note: Dates may still be subject to change.)

The trailer for Tenet. (Uploaded to YouTube by Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • Mulan: July 24
  • Tenet: July 31 (Updated: Tenet moved back after this article posted.)
  • The Spongebob Movie: August 7
  • Wonder Woman 1984: August 14
  • The Secret Garden: August 14
  • Antebellum: August 20
  • Bill & Ted Face the Music: August 21 (This is also the original date.)
  • New Mutants: August 28 (This is the fifth date for this film. It’s a long story.)
  • A Quiet Place 2: September 4
  • Candyman: September 25
  • Without Remorse: October 2
  • The French Dispatch: October 16
  • Fatherhood: October 23 (This Kevin Hart film actually moved up from January of 2021.)
  • Black Widow: November 6
  • Soul: November 20
  • No Time to Die: November 25 (Update: This date changed after the article posted.)
  • Free Guy: December 11
  • Top Gun: Maverick: December 23

The trailer for In the Heights. (Uploaded to YouTube by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Additionally, a number of anticipated films were moved out of 2020 completely. Here are anticipated 2020 openers that ended up shifting to 2021.

  • Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway: January 15
  • The Eternals: February 12
  • Ghostbuster: Afterlife: March 5
  • Raya and the Last Dragon: March 12
  • Morbius: March 19
  • F9 (Fast & Furious 9): April 2
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: May 7
  • In the Heights: June 18
  • Venom: Let There Be Carnage: June 25
  • The Tomorrow War: July 23
  • Jungle Cruise: July 30
  • Minions: Rise of Gru: July 2
  • Mission: Impossible 7: November 19
  • The Nightingale: December 22 (Note: This is the Dakota and Elle Fanning WWII drama, not the 2018 Australian film.)

Part II: Where Did the Movies Go on Streaming?

The trailer for Working Man. (Uploaded to YouTube by Brainstorm Media)

As a subset to all of the big date moves for theatrical releases, a number of films were pulled to be released onto VOD or various streaming services. Some have already debuted, while others are on the way. Here are some of those notable switches.

  • Trolls 2: World Tour: Digital Rental on April 10
  • Blue Story: Digital Rental on May 5
  • Working Man: Digital Rental on May 5
  • Scoob!: Digital Rental on May 15
  • The Lovebirds: Netflix on May 22
  • Artemis Fowl: Disney+ on June 12
  • Irresistible: Digital Rental on June 26
  • Hamilton: Disney+ on July 3
  • The Truth: Digital Rental and select theaters on July 3
  • Greyhound: AppleTV+ (date pending)
  • My Spy: Amazon (date pending)

Part III: How did The Wretched become the #1 movie in America?

As theater chains and local movie houses shut down due to the pandemic, one particular type of venue did manage to start showing films again. That was, of course, the drive-in, where social distancing is built in to the experience as you watch the film from your own car or parking space. As the Post previously reported in 2018, drive-in theaters have experienced something of a minor resurgence in recent years; the pandemic gave those in operation the unique ability to deliver movies when everything else was closed.

The trailer for The Wretched. (Uploaded to YouTube by FilmSelect Trailer)

Of course, the vast majority of big summer releases had already been moved. That gave some smaller films the opportunity to get in front of drive-in viewers eager for a movie experience. Enter Brett and Drew T. Pierce’s horror film, The Wretched. The IFC Films picture premiered at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival; it’s received mostly positive reviews with particular praise for its cinematography and atmosphere. On May 1, The Wretched arrived for digital rental . . . and at drive-ins. By the end of the weekend, with essentially no competition from indoor theaters and few other new films on the outdoor screens, The Wretched hit #1 at the box office, pulling in over $65,000 from 12 screens. For the next four weeks, The Wretched sat atop the box office charts, making more money every week as more outdoor screens added the word-of-mouth hit. It was finally dethroned in week six (although it made over $200,000) by the debut of Becky, a thriller featuring burgeoning horror starlet Lulu Wilson.

The success of The Wretched is something of a throwback to the 1950s through the 1980s, when lower-budget films released at drive-ins could still thrive. This is actually a hopeful sign for the movie business, as it might re-open the way for reliable distribution across models; instead of being locked in to indoor theatres, films could consider different viable options for release and still have scaled tiers of success. Certainly, a hugely budgeted Marvel movie couldn’t necessarily make what it needs to by relying solely on drive-ins, but a $1 or $2 million-budgeted thriller could do quite well. If there’s a sustained COVID-19 spike over the summer, drive-ins may be the only places (outside the home) where new films are available.

Like all avenues of American life in 2020, the movies had to adapt quickly to a new normal. And while nothing’s back to the “old normal” yet (and may not be for some time), it’s refreshing to know that there are still pathways for people to embrace escapism. Whether you prefer your films under the stars or in the comfort of your home, it seems that you have plenty of options coming to a screen near you, even if you have to wait a little longer than you expected.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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