They’re back! Or are they?
As recently as May, it seemed like last year’s COVID-scrambled movie schedule was finally returning to something resembling normalcy. However, recent moves have suggested that American theater schedules are still ffar from being a settled affair. Here’s a look at how it’s shaking out.
After a 2020 that saw most films on the schedule retreat to 2021 or attempt various versions of hybrid releases (as in releasing simultaneously in theaters and on streaming), observers were optimistic that the advent of vaccinations might propel people back to theaters. However, actual theatrical attendance has been softer than expected. While Disney’s Jungle Cruise and Marvel’s Black Widow did millions via the at-home VOD opportunity afforded by the Disney+ platform, theatrical results were lower than projected. Warner’s The Suicide Squad also had a smaller-than-anticipated debut, although part of that is certainly attributable to the film simultaneously being offered (at no extra charge) on HBO Max.
The uncertainty in the air and the ongoing Delta variant surge have initiated another ripple effect on release dates. And what isn’t being said is as telling as what is. When Sony made their presentation of upcoming releases at CineCon in Las Vegas on August 23, Marvel’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage was missing. That was unexpected for a few reasons: one, a new trailer had been released within the past few weeks, and two, Sony was proudly showing the trailer for another Marvel property, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Venom: Let There Be Carnage had already seen its release pushed from September to October (after originally being bumped from 2020); now, rumors are circulating that movie might get pushed all the way until January of 2022. That would likely force Sony to move another Spider-Man-related character’s film, Morbius, which presently awaits release that month.
Over at Marvel Studios, the Disney-owned powerhouse appears to be sitting firmly on their September 3 release date for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Unlike Black Widow, Shang-Chi will NOT have a Disney+ option; it’s only availability will be in the theater for the first 45 days of release. Disney CEO Bob Chapek referred to this approach as an “interesting experiment.” What Chapek seemed to mean was that the idea of having theatrical exclusivity at all right now is something of a risk. While Shang-Chi has received substantially solid, if not effusive, advance reviews, there are worries that its opening could be hampered by the ongoing COVID-inspired reluctance of audiences to fully return to theaters. According to the National Research Group, the number of people currently comfortable with seeing a film in a theatrical setting keeps dropping, with boys under 18 being the most comfortable (possibly good for Shang-Chi) and mothers being the least comfortable (bad for any film directed at kids). More than half of respondents cited COVID concerns as the main reason for being reluctant to embrace the movie houses again.
One of the few bright spots in recent weeks was a strong opening for action-comedy Free Guy on August 13. Released by Disney and also employing the “45-day window” strategy, the movie (which had been moved four times) had a $28.4 million opening weekend, which was great for an original movie (and stronger than the opening of established brand, The Suicide Squad). As of August 23, it’s pulled in $113.5 million worldwide. That does offer a bit of ray of hope for Shang-Chi, but the jury will be out until its opening weekend. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Sony may have committed the ultimate burn-off, simply selling Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, to Amazon Studios for $100 million; that turns the fourth installment of that animated franchise into a streaming debut.
At this point, here’s a summary of the latest release date information we have for some of the major titles for the rest of the year, including how many times each release date has already been moved.
- Candyman — August 27 (fourth date)
A direct sequel to the original 1992 film from writer Jordan Peele and director Nia DaCosta.
- Shang–Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — September 3 (fourth date)
Marvel’s martial arts hero hits the big screen.
- Malignant — September 10 (second date; simultaneously on HBO Max)
Director James Wan returns to horror (like he ever left it).
- Dear Evan Hansen — September 24
Based on the six-time Tony winner, the musical stars original Broadway lead Ben Platt.
- The Many Saints of Newark — October 1 (fourth date; simultaneously on HBO Max)
A prequel to The Sopranos, the movie stars Michael Gandolfini (son of the late James Gandolfini) as young Tony Soprano.
- No Time to Die — October 8 (sixth date)
His name is Bond, James Bond, and it took him a loooong time to get here.
- Halloween Kills — October 15 (second date)
The second installment of the reboot trilogy stars Jamie Lee Curtis.
- The Last Duel — October 15 (second date)
Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer. Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener adapted the screenplay from Eric Jager’s book.
- The French Dispatch — October 22 (third date)
Wes Anderson’s latest assembles a huge cast, including Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.
- Dune — October 22 (fourth date; simultaneously on HBO Max)
The second big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic is directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Mamoa, and many, many more.
- Jackass Forever — October 22 (fourth date)
Johnny Knoxville and the gang return to injure themselves for your amusement.
- Last Night in Soho — October 29 (fourth date)
Visionary director Edgar Wright does horror with Anya Taylor-Joy.
- Eternals — November 5 (third date)
Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao brings you Jack Kirby’s cosmic Marvel heroes, embodied by the likes of Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, and Richard Madden. Madden’s Game of Thrones brother Kit Harrington plays Dane Whitman, the heroic Black Knight.
- Ghostbusters: Afterlife — November 11 (fourth date)
Who ya gonna call? Jason Reitman, who directed and co-wrote this sequel to the first two films directed by his father, Ivan.
- Top Gun: Maverick — November 19 (sixth date)
It’s Tom Cruise as Maverick. That should cover it.
- Encanto — November 24 (Wait, this was always the actual date? Crazy.)
Disney’s new animated film features a magical family and songs by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- Nightmare Alley — December 3 (Another first?)
Guillermo Del Toro directs a deep cast headlined by Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett in this adaptation of the classic 1946 noir novel.
- West Side Story — December 10 (second date)
Steven Spielberg delivers a new take on the beloved musical.
- Spider-Man: No Way Home — December 17 (third date)
After Spider-Man: Far from Home, the world knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man. When Doctor Strange’s attempt to fix things goes wrong, villains from all of the previous versions of the Spidey franchise (including Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus) are unleashed.
- The Matrix: Resurrections — December 22 (third date; simultaneously on HBO Max)
Keanu Reeves returns to the franchise that launched a thousand slo-mo bullet dodges. The film is directed and co-written by original co-creator Lana Wachowski.
Featured image: Shutterstock
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