Patty Jenkins’ $200-million sequel “Wonder Woman 1984” was slated for June 5, but Warner Bros. has landed on a new date, August 14, which was originally slated for James Wan’s “Malignant.” Moving “Wonder Woman 1984″ to on demand was always a financial nonstarter, because movies that cost more than $100 million need cinemas all over the world to recoup their investment. “Our plan has always been, and still remains, to release WW 1984 in theatres,” Jeff Greenstein, Warner President of Domestic Distribution, wrote in an email.
The studio also announced that Mark Wahlberg comedy “Scoob!” (originally May 15), Jon M. Chu musical “In the Heights” (once slated for June 26) and “Malignant” are moving to undated status.
Hollywood knows that bringing exhibition back to life is going to be painful. Last weekend, China ramped up its shuttered theaters after two months of lockdown and saw 500 theaters gross about $2,000 (that’s not a typo). Granted, the offerings were not premium (they were familiar Chinese blockbusters, not new releases), but it reflects the fact that even when lockdown is in the past, it will take time for audiences to return.
And yet: Even with that knowledge, studios are willing to wait it out until they can collect box office on their biggest titles.
Disney fed a national spike in at-home family demand last weekend by moving its Pixar release “Onward” from theaters straight to PVOD for $19.99 for 48 hours. Comcast-owned Universal will launch DreamWorks’ well-advertised “Trolls World Tour” on PVOD on April 10 with no theaters at all. While studios are eager to learn from these long-hampered release experiments, that does not mean everyone is ready to submit their own movies to the lab.
“Onward” fared far better than three fresh-from-theaters Universal titles on PVOD this weekend: “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man,” and “Emma.” None of them appeared in the top 10 rentals for iTunes or Amazon. (FandangoNow, which released its chart Monday, had a different take: “The Invisible Man” was no. 1, “Onward” no. 2, with “The Hunt” and “Emma” nos. 4 and 6, respectively.)
And Sony announced a quick March 24 on-demand digital release for Vin Diesel actioner “Bloodshot,” which spent four days in theaters before major chains started to close. Studio chief Tom Rothman made clear that this was a temporary move: “Sony Pictures is firmly committed to theatrical exhibition and we support windowing. This is a unique and exceedingly rare circumstance.”
Currently, Paramount is sending scheduled April 3 release “The Lovebirds” to Netflix, the first studio to push a first-run movie straight to a third-party streamer during the theater shutdown, but delayed anticipated sequel “A Quiet Place Part II.” And Warner Bros. has moved already opened “Birds of Prey” and “The Way Back” straight to VOD.
But that was never going to happen to “Wonder Woman 1984.” The first “Wonder Woman” grossed $413 million domestic and a total $821 million worldwide. On-demand rentals aren’t going to generate hundreds of millions of dollars — or $1 billion, as the postponed “Fast & Furious 10” (Universal, April 21, 2021) and Disney’s undated “Mulan” and “Black Widow” are expected to do. Foreign territories account for 70 percent of Hollywood’s annual box office. Last year’s highest-grosser, Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” grossed nearly 70 percent of its $2.8 billion overseas. China is the world’s second-largest market, and Hollywood is counting on it to bounce back before the rest of the world conquers COVID-19.
Besides, the studios need to keep their beleaguered theater partners up and running. That means committing to dating their big tentpoles. So far, movies that already opened in theaters and smaller-budgeted, less competitive pictures are going VOD. Independent distributors can see the logjam ahead, and it makes sense for them to take their available VOD slots and run with them.
Universal is still figuring out what to do with Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island” (June 19), while Focus is dealing with Jon Stewart’s “Irresistible” (May 29) and Eliza Hittman’s well-reviewed Sundance and Berlin hit “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” which is expected to go to VOD after less than an Oscar-qualifying week in theaters. (The Academy is figuring out ways to make eligible movies that were unable to fulfil their theatrical bookings.)
But the theater chains will need a full complement of tentpoles in order to stage their comeback. On the studio side, the likes of Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg are lucky to have completed photography and are in the depths of post-production on “Tenet” (Warner Bros., July 14) and “West Side Story” (Fox, December 18), respectively. Universal had to push back July 3 release “Minions: The Rise of Gru” because of post-production delays.
A number of movies had to shut down during filming and could be delayed, including “The Nightingale” (Sony, December 25) starring Elle and Dakota Fanning, Ryan Murphy musical “The Prom” (fall, Netflix) starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and James Corden, and Ridley Scott’s period adventure “The Last Duel” (Fox, December 25) starring Ben Affleck.
Studios are scrambling with an uncertain timeline and when they reemerge from the pandemic will be fighting for available production facilities and personnel. Production delays on 2021 releases are less urgent, from Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis Presley movie (October 1, 2021) starring COVID-19 patient Tom Hanks, and Matt Reeves’ “The Batman”(June 25, 2021) starring Robert Pattinson, to Guillermo del Toro’s remake of “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight), starring Bradley Cooper.
“People will return to movie theaters because that is who people are,” the National Association of Theatre Owners said in a statement last week. “When they return they will rediscover a cutting edge, immersive entertainment experience that they have been forcefully reminded they cannot replicate at home.” It remains to be seen if the government will deem Hollywood’s beleaguered exhibitors, shut down for the first time in their 100-year history, worthy of the fiscal relief they seek.