- Some Hollywood studios have once again started delaying their movies or selling them to streamers.
- It’s a sign that theaters could face more complications as concerns over the coronavirus intensify.
- Here is Insider’s guide to how Hollywood and movie theaters got to this point, and what the future looks like.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
While the North American box office has yet to rebound, there have been some signs of recovery after a calamitous 2020.
“Free Guy,” the Ryan Reynolds action-comedy, earned $28 million at the domestic box office during its August opening weekend, beating expectations, and “A Quiet Place Part II” has had strong legs at the box office since it debuted in May.
But as the Delta variant causes coronavirus cases to rise and the vaccination rate slows across the US, movie theaters could soon face challenges similar to last year, when studios delayed tentpole movies or found streaming alternatives to theaters.
Paramount has already removed its “Clifford” movie, which was slated for October, from the release calendar, and Sony delayed its “Venom” sequel by three weeks to October 15. The latter studio, without its own streaming platform, also sold the latest entry in its “Hotel Transylvania” animated film series to Amazon, skipping theaters altogether. More big changes could follow.
One major problem facing tentpoles released in the current theatrical environment is that they’re seeing big drop offs in revenue after their first weekends.
That was normal in the pre-pandemic market when movies like “Black Widow” and “F9” would have opened with significantly larger numbers at the box office. But it’s not exactly sustainable now, given that films are already at a disadvantage with a number of North American theaters still closed, pandemic-related restrictions in place, and many consumers uncomfortable returning to theaters.
Movies like “Black Widow,” “F9,” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” managed to cross the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, but these films each cost around $200 million to make. While the international box office has given them a boost – particularly in the case of “F9,” which has earned $680 million globally – prior Marvel and “Fast and Furious” movies grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
Another hurdle theaters faced this year was the lack of exclusive animated movies, as many of these family films got simultaneous, or exclusive, streaming releases. It looked like that could improve as the year progressed, but now the aforementioned “Clifford” and “Hotel Transylvania” films have been removed from the equation.
Though “Space Jam: A New Legacy” performed well, the box office could have used a boost from the Pixar movie “Luca,” which went straight to Disney+ this summer. Other animated movies like “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and “Paw Patrol” got day-and-date releases on streaming platforms Peacock and Paramount+, respectively.
The shifting relationship with talent amid streaming strategies has also impacted Hollywood, with theaters at the center of debates surrounding talent compensation.
For example, Christopher Nolan, a champion of theaters, has had conversations with Netflix, which wants to poach the filmmaker from Warner Bros. for his next movie. Nolan was heavily critical of WarnerMedia’s decision to release its 2021 movies to theaters and HBO max simultaneously. His next move will be an important indicator for the future of cinemas as big tech and streaming shake up Hollywood.
The coming weeks will be a barometer of the more immediate future of movie theaters. If studios continue to delay films or sell them to streamers, it could be cause for concern – and a sign that the exhibition industry will continue to change at a breakneck pace.
Here’s a list of our recent coverage on the state of movie theaters as the industry looks to recover from the pandemic:
The big-picture take
Major obstacles theaters and Hollywood have faced
- Movie theaters are facing their worst nightmare, from Disney’s shifting strategy to a lack of animated movies
- Disney faces a new battle with an old enemy: movie piracy
- Movie theaters are still missing a key ingredient for the box office to thrive
- Sequels like ‘F9’ and ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ have jumpstarted the US box office, but experts say there are 2 major hurdles still facing the movie business
- The G.I. Joe franchise could face another overhaul after ‘Snake Eyes’
Evolving Hollywood strategies
- ‘Black Widow’s’ Disney+ earnings show how Hollywood’s relationship to theaters has changed, and it could put pressure on other studios
- Paramount+ is betting it can use big movies like ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ to attract new subscribers without tanking box-office returns
- ‘F9’ broke a pandemic box-office record, but also shows how the movie-theater industry has permanently changed
- ‘In the Heights’ underwhelmed at the box office, but new data suggests it’s not HBO Max’s fault
Tense talent relationships
- Netflix wants to lure ‘Tenet’ director Christopher Nolan after his falling out with Warner Bros. Where his next movie ends up will be an important indicator as tech shakes up Hollywood.
- Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Black Widow’ lawsuit against Disney could remake studio-talent deals in the streaming era, top Hollywood attorneys say
But it hasn’t been all bad