The pandemic’s effects on the film industry

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A man wearing a face mask walks past a poster for the Disney movie “Mulan” at a movie theater in Beijing, on Sept. 11, 2020. Many movies that were released this year have been reported as flops at the box office due to the pandemic. Photo by Mark Schiefelbin via AP Photo.

Last Wednesday, Disney announced bombshell news that rocked the film industry. They reported they would be pushing back the release dates of their blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The release of “Black Widow,” the upcoming Scarlett Johansson-helmed film, was delayed to May 7 of 2021 from its previous released date of Nov. 6. This massive six-month delay caused a shift in the release dates of other upcoming Marvel films such as “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Eternals” and “Thor: Love and Thunder.” These movies are close to guaranteed global blockbusters, making their release dates vital to the prospects of the industry. This leads to the question, why did Disney push their release dates so far back? 

Well, as the answer is the same as to most questions in the industry; due to money. 

As explained in last week’s “Tenet” review, Warner Bros. took a massive risk releasing Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film to theaters several weeks ago. Right now, it’s not looking like the risk is paying off.  Nolan’s film does not look like it will be profitable once it completes its release. After four weeks in theaters, “Tenet” has only grossed about $41,200,000 (financial data credited to the-numbers.com) domestically, and $243,000,000 internationally. 

Now from an outside view, $285 million in gross seems to be successful, but in actuality it is not. With a reported production budget of upward of $200 million and by factoring in marketing expenses and the money lost due to split profits with theaters, “Tenet” will probably need to clear $650 million to at least break even. After four weeks of release, and no clear influx of movie goers coming in the future, “Tenet” appears to be a flop at the box office. 

Thus leads to the recent moves made by the Hollywood studios, delaying many of their tentpole property films to 2021. Marvel films from Disney and DC films from Warner Bros bear similar budgets to blockbusters like “Tenet” and the box office receipts from the Nolan epic don’t look promising. If they, as studios, want any chance at being profitable in this uncertain environment, their best bet is to delay those big-budget films. 

However, this leads to another problem. With all of these delays, the 2021 film schedule looks absolutely packed. Now as a movie fan, this looks great as we will have big films released almost every week, but for the studios this makes things really complicated. 

A big draw like a Marvel or DC film can essentially lock down a few weeks of box office, holding other films in theaters to minimal grosses. When you look at the prospective calendar for 2021, it appears that many films will have difficulty making money if they keep their current release dates. 

January and February don’t have any films that look like they can clear $1 billion, but Warner Bros’ current Christmas Day 2020 release date for “Wonder Woman 1984” isn’t looking definite, and a delay to one of these months seems likely. “Wonder Woman 1984” has a good chance to clear $1 billion, considering how well the first “Wonder Woman “did in 2017. 

Moving into March 2021, films such as Disney’s “Raya and The Last Dragon” and Sony’s “Morbius” may do well, but probably won’t clear the billion dollar mark. April marks the release of surefire billion dollar film “Fast and Furious 9,” and other prospective successful films like “A Quiet Place Part II.” 

In May, however, is where it starts to get crazy. We discussed before the early May release of “Black Widow,” but May also has Legendary’s monster epic “Godzilla vs. Kong” and Disney’s live-action adaptation “Cruella.” Just a few weeks later, in June, Universal releases “Jurassic World: Dominion” which is sure to clear $1 billion by a wide margin. The week after that marks the release of a new Pixar film “Luca,” the film adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “In The Heights” and “Venom: Let There be Carnage.” Then the next week marks the release of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to the 1986 film, and “Minions: The Rise of Gru” a sequel to the billion dollar grossing film “Minions.” 

We could continue this all the way until the end of the year, mentioning films like Lebron James’ “Space Jam,” “Jungle Cruise,” “The Suicide Squad” and the Robert Pattinson helmed “The Batman,” but you get the point. 

2021 is going to be absolutely packed with movies, which will lead to studios delaying many of their tentpole releases to 2022. While the pandemic will hopefully be solved by next year, its ramifications on the film industry will last for a long time. 

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