This is where we came in. The phrase comes from the once-common practice of audiences arriving late to a movie, then sitting through the next screening until they caught up. (Strange, but true.) It’s apt as we confront a raft of major films — nearly half of the studio release calendar through the end of April — pushing their dates, again.
On January 21, James Bond moved five months; “No Time to Die” is now scheduled on October 8. We’re nearing the one-year anniversary of its first move last March, when it pushed from April to November. The reasoning remains the same: Eon Prods. exists almost entirely on this franchise. With production and marketing costs approaching $400 million, it needs theaters to operate at their full potential. Late on January 22, Paramount announced it moved “A Quiet Place Part II.” Scheduled for April 23, it’s now September 17.
Transforming and unstable remains theatrical distribution’s new normal. At this writing, there are just 10 studio titles through the end of April: Five are from Warner Bros. (which play day-and-date with HBO Max) and one is from Universal (with its now-standard option to go Premium VOD in its fourth week.) These are more likely to stay put.
The other four — two from Lionsgate, one each from Disney and Sony — are less certain. Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” scheduled for March 5, could be the next to go; it may have too much potential to remain on that date or as a theatrical exclusive.
Summer blockbusters traditionally start their rollout in May, and for now we have “Black Widow” on May 7 and “F9” on May 28. Each could represent up to $1 billion in gross, but odds are waning that they’ll keep those dates. “No Time to Die,” “The King’s Men,” “Ghostbusters: After Life,” and “A Quiet Place Part II” — the four most highly anticipated films among this week’s many changes — all reset for August and later. Sony also moved its videogame adaptation “Uncharted” starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg from July to February 2022.
For theaters, there’s good news in that none of these changes involve moving to streaming or VOD play. (“A Quiet Place Part II” might have been a tempting option for Paramount’s upcoming streaming platform.) An exception: Netflix bought worldwide rights to Sony Animation’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.” Another animated film, “Bob’s Burgers” — a Disney title inherited in its Fox acquisition — moved from March to undated, suggesting the possibility that it will land on Disney+.
Warner Bros. is both hero and villain for placing its entire 2021 release schedule on HBO Max day and date. Any anger over that unilateral decision was viewed as a direct attack on theaters, but now it is the primary studio supplier for the first half of the year. Top chains quietly acknowledge that reality; AMC and Cinemark are now selling tickets for Warners’ January 29 Denzel Washington vehicle, “The Little Things.”
Rules change. Cinemark is now playing Netflix title “The White Tiger” and previously played Amazon’s “One Night in Miami.” A year ago, that was unthinkable.
None of this is the final word, and no one should believe that the date shifting is done. The top theater chains are all publicly traded and have survival strategies; the Save Our Screens aid package passed by Congress last month will keep many smaller companies afloat. Theaters have a post-pandemic future, but it’s increasingly likely to be one in which they play a decreased role in feature film presentation. The clearest indication: A year ago, this week’s announcements would have seemed apocalyptic. Today, it’s business as usual.