Ten months ago, No Time to Die was the first major studio picture to delay its release date due to growing concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly one year later and not much has changed. With COVID cases surging yet again and just 35% of American movie theaters open at the moment, Hollywood is preparing yet another round of high profile postponements for upcoming films.
Despite the slow dissemination of COVID vaccines worldwide, virtually all of 2021’s first half films are suddenly in peril, Variety reports. According to the outlet, the major Hollywood studios are considering several options for upcoming features over the next several months. These include outright delays (Sony has already pushed Morbius to October), hybrid releases, streaming sell offs and everything in between. Here’s how we would make the best of a bad situation for five of these major films.
The King’s Man (March 19)
Solution: Re-route to Hulu.
Hulu was considered a foundational building block of Disney’s direct-to-consumer strategy as recently as 2019. Now, 14 months into Disney+’s domination, the Mouse House has largely de-emphasized Hulu in favor of other shiny new toys. But if they want to rebrand the streamer as an 18 and over sub-portal of Disney+, as rumors suggest, it could use more attractive blockbuster content.
The release date for The King’s Man, a spinoff prequel to Fox’s popular Kingsman franchise, has already been changed five separate times. While the movie’s predecessors each managed to surpass $400 million at the worldwide box office, this new feature does not include any of those same characters. Moreover, there’s not much room left on the 2021 release calendar and Disney has little experience in recent years marketing gory R-rated action.
Re-routing the film to Hulu, which boasts a quality if relatively niche programming library, would give it some mainstream muscle and end the game of musical chairs The King’s Man has been playing for more than a year.
A Quiet Place Part II (April 23)
Solution: Wait and see.
Variety‘s article notes that Paramount is not interested in selling the highly-anticipated sequel to the surprisingly successful 2018 hit. We get it. This is one of the studio’s few blue chip features on the horizon and executives don’t want to sacrifice it.
But delaying the film for a third time leaves Paramount in a pretty barren wasteland. The studio hasn’t pushed a wide global theatrical release since Sonic the Hedgehog last February. Over the last year, Paramount has auctioned off the remainder of its slate, including the upcoming Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America, to various streamers. Facing the prospect of going roughly 18 months without a homegrown release is daunting.
Horror works best when consumed in a crowd; it is arguably the genre most reliant on a shared communal viewing experience. If, somehow, New York and L.A. theaters can reopen by April, Paramount should push forward with its release. If the sequel’s budget is anywhere close to the original’s $17 million, it won’t need to earn Tenet money to turn a profit.
No Time to Die (April 2)
Solution: Pick your priority.
Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond finds itself in a particularly precarious position.
MGM has long served as the financial backers for the franchise, which is why the outfit has more control over No Time To Die than Universal, which holds international distribution rights. Deadline reports that the studio is now considering a push until fall.
But MGM is also preparing itself for a lucrative sale (Apple, maybe?). If the company wants to do what is best for itself and its potential sale, it will auction No Time To Die to a streaming service for a record-breaking amount of money. (It was reported that streamers scoffed at MGM’s asking price of $600 million last year). If MGM wants to do what is best for the film and its audience, it will delay No Time to Die yet again until it can receive an exclusive global theatrical release in which the majority of movie theaters are operational.
Black Widow (May 7)
Solution: Day-and-Date release in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access
Marvel’s greatest strength—tightly woven interconnected stories that sequentially feed into one another—has become its greatest burden in the pandemic. With a backlog of product forced to the sidelines, Marvel has had to rejigger its entire schedule. With Black Widow delayed an entire year and reportedly connecting to both The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as well as Hawkeye, it’s doubtful the studio can afford to push the Scarlet Johansson blockbuster any further.
As a result, Marvel should open Black Widow both in theaters and via Disney+ Premier Access on May 7 (the studio has already been back-channeling with talent in anticipation of such a move). Though Mulan did not appear to justify this PVOD strategy, a Marvel movie featuring Johansson is an entirely different ballgame that could drive significant revenue and interest to Disney+. More importantly, it would keep Marvel on track for its busiest year ever.
F9 (May 28)
Give credit to Universal for falling backwards into the Fast and Furious franchise but then making a slew of clever decisions to transform it into a globe-trotting action franchise. The series is now the most popular set of blockbusters outside of America, where 75% of the global box office is generated.
Both Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious managed to earn $1 billion in international ticket sales alone. Including Hobbs and Shaw, all four of the franchise’s most recent entries have exceeded $500 million overseas. NBCU streamer Peacock doesn’t have a large enough subscriber base to monetize F9, which is likely a $1 billion grosser under normal circumstances. With the U.K. on lockdown and the Asia Pacific region being hit hard again, Universal might as well maximize profits by waiting until a more feasible release window.