Box Office: Why The Pandemic Could Change Hollywood's Obsession With Release Dates

Yesterday's teaser trailer for The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard was distinctly "fine." It brings newbie viewers up to speed, introduces the new plot and offers some of what the movie has to offer while showing off its star trio (Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek) in crowdpleasing action-comedy set-ups and pay-offs. I wanted to see more of Antonio Banderas (as the baddie) and Morgan Freeman (as a mystery character), but maybe there will be another trailer next month. What's noteworthy, relatively speaking, is that Lionsgate dropped this trailer two months before the film's June 16 theatrical release. Among the many questions concerning what the theatrical industry might look like after the pandemic comes to an end, one concerns whether we might see shorter marketing campaigns and less of an obsession with hitting a specific release date.

The notion of a film being rushed to hit a release date is not new. Just offhand, Paramount allegedly stopped the post-production/editing of Joe Dante's Explorers before it was finished for the sake of hitting its July 12, 1985 release date. Pretty much 75% of everything that went down during Justice League was due to Warner Bros. executives demanding that the film debut as scheduled in November of 2017 despite the massive post-Batman v Superman "course-corrections" and eventual "Zack Snyder for Joss Whedon" director swap. In an era where studios date "untitled event movie" years into the future before they even have an actual movie, or when we get major announcements of a release date for a given franchise flick years beforehand, release dates are often deemed more important than the quality of the movie.

However, there are examples big and small which suggested that a movie could be a relative success even with a different release date and with less advance notice pertaining to that new date. For example, Sony moved Jaume Collet-Serra's The Shallows from June 29, 2016 to June 24, 2016. That's a small change, but it occurred just 16 days before its intended release and ten days before the first paid Thursday night previews. This was done both because The Purge: Election Year was starting to smell like a horror movie event on the July 4 weekend while Independence Day: Resurgence and Free State of Jones were beginning to just smell, period. Thanks to good reviews, strong buzz and a primal "Blake Lively versus a shark" hook, The Shallows opened with a larger-than-predicted $16.8 million opening weekend.

And just recently, quite obviously, Warner Bros. moved Godzilla Vs. Kong from May 21, 2021 to March 31, 2021 (and the weekend of March 26 overseas), releasing the first trailer (and really the first real piece of official marketing) on January 24, just over three months before the release date. It opened with a best-case-scenario $48 million over its Wed-Sun domestic debut and is currently soaring past the $363 million global cume of Tenet. Not only did the movie open two months earlier than scheduled, but it thrived (where markets can justify robust moviegoing) despite only beginning its marketing campaign with three months to go. Universal notched a $71 million debut for Jordan Peele's Us in March of 2019 despite just a single trailer being offered up less than three months before release on Christmas Day.

The Box Office Is Back This Weekend, And It is Huge, Thanks To 'Godzilla Vs. Kong'

It has been 386 days since the last time that the weekend box office scored $50 million in total for every movie over the entire weekend, but it looks like the COVID-19 pandemic streak is finally over. Things are still far from normal, obviously - there are still hundreds of movie theaters that have not reopened and the studios are still putting the pieces together - but this weekend proved once and for all that audiences are still very interested in returning to theaters.

Godzilla vs. Kong (from director Adam Wingard) is poised to earn a whopping $48.6 million over the last 5 days, and well over $33 million over the three-day weekend. That is a remarkable number for a few reasons. First of all, it's the biggest opening weekend (five-day or three-day) since Onward earned $39 million on the weekend of March 6th, 2020. This is doubly exceptional for a couple more reasons, namely that its predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, only earned only $47 million in its opening weekend in 2019, and that was before the pandemic. Moreover, $48 million worth of moviegoers showed up to watch Godzilla vs. Kong in theaters, despite the fact that it was also playing for free to HBO Max subscribers.

Moviegoers are clearly ready to return to theaters (even as the pandemic threatens a fourth surge), and Godzilla vs. Kong provided one of the first great excuses to do so since Tenet faltered last fall. It didn't matter that it had been delayed a year, or that it was available to watch on our television screens and mobile devices, moviegoers wanted to see an old-fashioned blockbuster the way it was meant to be seen: On the big screen.

It didn't hurt, either, that Adam Wingard's movie was well received by critics (76 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and audiences were clearly overjoyed to see a movie of this ilk in theaters, too, because they gave it a 94 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and an A Cinemascore (and an A+ among those under the age of 18). Despite the pandemic, theaters probably also racked up their biggest concession sales in over a year because Godzilla vs. Kong is the kind of movie that almost requires popcorn, despite the fact that most people are still wearing masks in public.

Obviously, $48 million is short of what the movie could have made outside of a pandemic, but the performance clearly meant a lot for the industry, as it gives them hope that people are eager to return to theaters, which is good for the studios, good for the theaters, good for actors and crew members, good for ticket-sales companies, and even good for those of us who write about the box office. I'm sure there was a huge breath of relief all over Tinseltown this weekend.

Godzilla vs. Kong - as it would have during normal times - also blew everything else out of competition. Bob Odenkirk's well-received Nobody came in a very distant second place, earning around $2.8 million to bring its ten-day total to $11.5 million. That's actually not so bad; the first John Wick movie only earned $43 million total outside the pandemic, and it had Keanu Reeves. At a cost of only $16 million (Odenkirk is clearly cheaper than Reeves), Nobody is poised for a profit, especially after it's made available at home, which will happen soon enough. The film will be released digitally on April 16th.

In third place was another new release this weekend, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's horror movie, The Unholy. With $2.75 million, it appears that it will come in just under Nobody. The Unholy has been saddled with bad reviews (33 percent on RT) and even the audience score is tepid (57 percent).

Fourth and fifth place belong to family films, both of which are also available to home viewers. Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon, which can be rented for $30 on Disney+, eked out $2 million to bring its total to $32 million. Tom and Jerry, meanwhile, rounds out the top five with $1.2 million and $39 million total, despite also being available on HBO Max.

Will Drive-In Movie Theaters Make a Comeback?

Drive-in movie theaters were once a mainstay of the American cinema landscape. Hundreds of these outdoor gathering places existed across the country and were immensely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Drive-in culture remained a huge deal for decades, but their popularity began to wane as the new millennium began. In 2020, only 306 drive-in theaters remain in operation across the country, the last remnants of a nearly extinct tradition.

But that could soon change. In the wake of forced theater closings and the implementation of social distancing, the film industry has been sent back to the drawing board. While many studios have taken the route of releasing new films straight to digital platforms, the fun of seeing a movie on a big screen is not easily replaceable. To this end, a recent partnership between Tribeca Enterprises, IMAX, and AT&T will see the introduction of a summer movie program that will play a selection of films at drive-in theaters across the United States. "We're excited to give people something to look forward to this summer and reinvent a classic movie-going experience for communities to enjoy together safely," said Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro in an official statement.

While no specific titles have been announced for the event, selected films are said to cover new, classic, and independent releases. The involvement of IMAX means the best image and sound quality possible, as well as a large library of digitally remastered films to use for the screenings. After years of decline, it seems the drive-in movie theater may finally be getting the second chance it deserves.

Daniel DiManna, The NewsWheel

Weekend box office report - Covid-19 causes lowest box office total in 25 years

It's not just upcoming movie release schedules being hit hard by Covid-19. Not only are more and more people avoiding public places, but AMC and Regal, the two biggest cinemas chains in the US, have cut their ticket availability for shows by 50% to allow cinema goers to book tickets with empty seats next to them. With such shakeups, current US box office earnings fell sharply this weekend past. Pixar's Onward held onto the top spot it had earned on debut last week, but the animated family film saw its earnings plummet a massive 73% as it pulled in just $10.5 million in its sophomore weekend on the US box office. On the international front, things weren't looking much better as it earned just $6.8 million from 47 markets. That gives the film a global total just barely over $100 million after 10 days, which is definitely not normal for a Pixar film.

In second place, we find faith-based drama I Still Believe which was the only newcomer that actually debuted as predicted (if you want to see that as a commentary on the religious demographic turning up for a movie in spite of Covid-19, that's up to you). The biopic film, which tells the story of Christian singer Jeremy Camp, debuted to the tune of $9.5 million, which was just enough to edge out fellow newcomer Bloodshot.

'Spotlight' Producer Launches $250,000 COVID-19 Relief Fund for Doc Freelancers

Field of Vision and Topic Studios will hand out $2,000 emergency grants to laid-off documentary makers needing to pay their rent or buy groceries.

First Look Media's Field of Vision and Topic Studios, producer of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, have launched a $250,000 relief fund offering emergency grants to freelancers in the documentary field severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recipients, including unemployed documentary directors and producers and even publicists and researchers, will receive $2,000 each to help pay for rent, healthcare, bills and groceries and other immediate needs, with the funds to be handed out in two separate tranches in April and May.

"This is an incredibly hard time for the documentary field and we're hoping the fund is able to offer some relief," Field of Vision co-founder and executive producer Charlotte Cook said Tuesday in a statement.

The funding will come from Field of Vision and Topic Studios' current operating budgets.

"We hope to respond to the needs of our collaborators in the documentary community and look forward to a time, hopefully soon, when our main focus will again be on making great work together," Maria Zuckerman, executive vp of Topic Studios and a former HBO exec, added in her own statement.

First Look Media, which co-financed and produced Spotlight, rebranded the studio as Topic in 2017.

As Coronavirus Hits Hollywood, Movies Find A New Path Forward

As the coronavirus ripples through every sector of public life, Hollywood must determine in real time how to deal with a crisis that seems to worsen by the hour. Movie theaters across the world have shuttered, including hundreds of venues operated by AMC, Regal and Cinemark, the United States' three largest chains. Blockbusters like "A Quiet Place Part II," "Mulan," "No Time to Die," "Furious 9" and "Black Widow" - all of which staged hefty marketing campaigns worth millions - have been delayed. Other projects still in production (the long list includes "The Batman," the "Avatar" sequels and Baz Luhrmann's Elvis Presley biopic) are suspended indefinitely.

If the COVID-19 pandemic lasts through May, the global box office could face an estimated $20 billion loss. If it's longer, who knows what might result. Regional economies will be affected, too, as film operations pump money into local businesses and employ freelance crew members who are now out of work.

Meanwhile, scores of people stuck at home are relying on digital platforms for entertainment, giving studios an opportunity to recoup some funds by making nimble, unprecedented decisions to use streaming outlets (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) and video-on-demand services (iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and cable systems like Comcast and Cox) to showcase movies that can no longer play in theaters.

Disney, for one, capitalized on the situation by releasing "Frozen II" on Disney+ months ahead of schedule. Paramount Pictures is cutting a deal to give Netflix "The Lovebirds," a murder-mystery comedy starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani that was supposed to open April 3.

'Top Gun' movie sequel moved to December as coronavirus hits home

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The release of the much anticipated movie sequel to "Top Gun" has been moved to December, Paramount Pictures said on Thursday, the latest disruption in the movie industry caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

"Top Gun: Maverick," starring Tom Cruise, was originally scheduled to open in movie theaters worldwide on June 24 more than 30 years after the original movie launched his career as a global action star.

The delay to Dec. 23 was the latest in a series of blockbuster movies that have been delayed, including the new James Bond film "Never Say Die" and Disney's "Mulan," because of the coronavirus that has closed movie theaters in the United States and much of Europe and Asia.

"Top Gun: Maverick," picks up decades after the 1986 box-office hit and features actor Miles Teller as the son of Anthony Edwards' pilot Goose, who is killed during a training exercise in the first movie.

Most of the big movies that make up the lucrative summer season in North America have been postponed. But Hollywood studios are hopeful theaters will reopen and crowds will return in late summer.

Paramount said on Thursday that the animated "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run", previously scheduled for a May release, would now open on July 31.

"Wonder Woman 1984" from Warner Bros has also been rescheduled from June to Aug. 14.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Richwine, Editing by Franklin Paul and David Gregorio