As the theatrical model continues to crumble amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner Bros. announced an overhaul for their release calendar in 2021. Multiple tentpole films on their slate were pushed last night, chief among them being Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
The Batman, WB’s reboot of the Batman franchise starring Robert Pattinson, will release on March 4, 2022. The film’s original release date, October 1, 2021, is now occupied by Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. Dune, one of the few films that held on to its 2020 release date, was pushed to 2021, a story that the majority of 2020’s theatrical releases faced. As The Batman moves to the next year, WB rearranged its entire DC Comics release slate.
The Flash, starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, and Ben Affleck will be moving down several months from June 3, 2022, to November 4, 2022. Shazam! Fury of the Gods, whose spot is now taken by The Flash, moved to June 2, 2023. Director David F. Sandberg had a humorous reaction to his sequel’s revised release date.
“And ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ is now a summer 2023 film… WB was like “can’t you just use fake beards on the kids?” and I was like “If Tom Cruise is going to space for real then we can wait for the kids to grow real beards! It’s an important plot point.” The director joked on Twitter.
Black Adam, starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, has been removed from the release calendar, with no revised date as of yet. WB is still holding Wonder Woman 1984’s Christmas day release; though it is unclear if the studio will keep the film there as the future of the theatrical model is unclear.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cinemas were among the first businesses to shut down. The concept of dozens of people sitting in an enclosed room for two hours with inconsistent ventilation was enough to make it a potential hotspot for the virus. As theaters around the world closed, studios were quick to move their films. Almost every single major release slated for 2020 was moved to 2021. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was the first to test the waters of the theatrical market without New York or Los Angeles open and displayed how audiences are unwilling to show up in mass. While the film did okay given the circumstances, most studios were not willing to succumb to those numbers.
In a recent survey from the Morning Consult, a data company that captured responses from 2,200 people between September 10 and 13. Only 18% of consumers felt comfortable returning to the movie theater. This sentiment has been shared throughout the country, even in states that temporarily opened their venues. While more than 70% of U.S. cinemas had temporarily resumed operations, box office revenue in October was down 93% vs. October 2019. This seismic shift in the industry has led to all studios to flee from the year; to the disdain of cinema chains.
After the James Bond film No Time To Die was pushed to April 2, 2021, Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld Group announced that it would suspend and shut down all of their U.S. and U.K. locations. 45,000 employees will be affected by the move and the future of the industry as a whole is in question.
In a statement, Cineworld Group said: “In response to an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape and sustained key market closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cineworld confirms that it will be temporarily suspending operations at all of its 536 Regal theatres in the U.S. and its 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theaters in the U.K. from Thursday, 8 October 2020.”
John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, spoke to Variety on the roadblocks that cinemas faced from reopening, putting the blame on New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo.
“The failure of Gov. Cuomo to allow movie theaters to reopen anywhere in his state was a principal, if not exclusive, cause of the Bond move. If New York remains closed to theater operations, other movies scheduled for 2020 will move as well.”
Many consumers do not feel comfortable going to cinemas until there is a distributable vaccine around the world. Fithian continued that simply waiting for a vaccine could mean the end of the theaters as a whole.
“If we don’t have any movies until we’re fully vaccinated as a world, a lot of the theater companies are going to be gone and the theaters themselves won’t be there,” Fithian said. “This idea of waiting out the pandemic to make your movies more profitable doesn’t make sense to me. There won’t be as much of an industry left to play your movies in if you do that.”
As streaming becomes more popular than ever, theaters are in dire straits to work with studios on breathing life into the industry. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over by a long-shot. With the virus continuing to spread and spike in different areas of the country as the world enters flu-season, the harsh reality is that both studios and consumers will not risk going to cinemas. The theatrical model is on the verge of collapse and not much can be done to save it. As studios push their films to 2o21 and 2022, it remains to be seen if theaters will even be around when the films are ready to release.