Amid Theater Chaos, Indie Films ‘Unhinged’ and ‘Fatima’ Forge Ahead

Stateside theater openings remain a moving target for anxious distributors.
Amid Theater Chaos, Indies 'Unhinged' and 'Fatima' Forge Ahead
"Fatima" premiere at Hollywood Palladium.
Anne Thompson

Theaters and distributors are locked in a dirty dance that could have serious repercussions down the line. Without new movies to drive audiences to theaters, the question is, why pay the huge costs of reopening? That’s why the world’s largest theater chain, AMC, is moving back its relaunch from July 31 to “mid-to-late August” (a move almost certainly complicated now by Disney taking “Mulan,” originally scheduled for August 21, off the release calendar altogether), while Cinemark is expected to open 75 theaters next weekend.

A stateside “Tenet” release (planned for July 17, then July 31 and most recently August 12), wavers in limbo, as Warner Bros. will soon announce its first overseas bookings. AMC, for example, states that “approximately one-third of all AMC cinemas in Europe and the Middle East are already open and are operating normally.”

Which leaves two indie movies prepared to open in American theaters in August, as soon as the chains will let them. Picturehouse has already mounted a series of pop-up parking lot premieres including Miami and Los Angeles for Marco Pontecorvo’s Catholic-themed drama “Fatima,” starring Goran Višnjić as the mayor of Fátima, Portugal who tries to contain hordes of pilgrims seeking to witness a repeating 1917 apparition of the Virgin Mary. Sonia Braga and Harvey Keitel costar.

For the pop-up parking lot premiere, Višnjić was among the lines of cars parked outside of the Hollywood Palladium on Sunday, July 19, munching popcorn and Twizzlers, waiting for the sky to darken, and leaning on their horns instead of clapping. Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney (who released “The Passion of the Christ”), introduced the movie, recommending that the audience listen to the high-quality Meyer Sound speakers rather than the fuzzy FM station. The intro clip package included singing nuns as well as Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who is recovering from COVID-19, performing the movie’s original end-credit song, “Gratia Plena.”

A guest arrives at the “Fatima” premiere

Picturehouse had already pushed back its original April 24 release (after a rapturous response to their Ash Wednesday trailer) to August 14, when Bob and Jeanne Berney were planning to open the religious movie in 1000 theatres, assuming the major theater chains could book the film in most locations outside New York and Los Angeles. With AMC out of the picture — but an $8-10 million marketing campaign under way — they moved the date to August 28 with 200 theatres, a combination of indoor and drive-ins. “Fatima” will also go direct to home (PVOD) throughout North America.

“This is really terrifying in a way,” said Berney, who had been preparing for the past few weeks, as COVID spikes were growing in North America, to make the switch to a hybrid PVOD and theater release. “We held out. I’m a big theatrical guy. But with ‘Tenet’ and ‘Mulan’ moving, theaters were going to follow suit.”

Also pushing back is Solstice Studios’ first release, “Unhinged,” which has been riding theater push-backs since it boldly announced that the $33-million psychological thriller, starring Russell Crowe as a man with serious road rage, would be the first wide release of summer on July 1. As Mark Gill, the Solstice president and CEO (a veteran executive of Miramax, Warner Independent Pictures, and Millennium), looked at his options, in a world of unknowns, he figured, he might as well grab the bull by the horns.

Russell Crowe stars in road-rage thriller “Unhinged”Skip Bolden

The movie was originally set to open on September 4, until “A Quiet Place Part II” landed on the date. “When a supertanker heads toward a little speed boat you get out of the way or get crushed,” said Gill, who looked hard at all the dates through fall, winter and into 2021. “We had a little good solid thriller, not a $200-million movie. I started to think, ‘Where else could we go?’”

Well, Gill had no choice but to keep moving back “Unhinged” as “Tenet” and “Mulan” changed their dates, following the theater openings. First “Unhinged” moved to July 10, then July 31. Then it opened in Germany in first place last weekend, grossing a reported $255,000 from 380 theaters.

Now the film will open, per a press rep, in “August 2020, two weeks prior to the first big film release.” Now it’s more than two weeks, as “Mulan” has now been taken off the domestic calendar, along with “Tenet.”

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