Welcome to the Long Range Oracle, in which we journey into the not-too-distant future to discuss the prospects of potential blockbusters down the road. This will be similar to what we already do in Box Office Oracle, and with almost identical guidelines, but it will also allow for us to go more in-depth in our conversation than the weekly prediction column, which has a certain number of restrictions due to time and space.
And as with the weekly column, this is also something I’m going to keep as free of “controversy” as I can. This means that if, I don’t know, Jon Voight is voicing an evil government agent talking bear in a DreamWorks movie, I’m not going to make a bunch of Trump jokes. If a Tom Cruise actioner comes out, I’m not going to make a bunch of Scientology cracks. You get the idea. I want for this to be kept fun and simple.
So, without further discussion, let’s dive deep into our topic of the day: What the Heck Happens Next?
Yesterday, it became apparent that doing the usual Oracle column this weekend would be more or less useless. The coronavirus epidemic, which some of you may have heard of by now, lead to the announcement from Paramount that next week’s release of A Quiet Place: Part II would be delayed indefinitely. Then Fast & Furious 9–easily one of the most anticipated movies of the summer–got pushed back to Easter weekend of next year. Within hours, Disney made a statement that Mulan was not going to come out in two weeks, despite a heavy marketing campaign building up to that date.
In other words, everything has gone to shit pretty much.
Naturally, this basically meant that any tracking for this weekend could be flushed down the toilet immediately. Even though I Still Believe, Bloodshot, and The Hunt all still opened as scheduled, any numbers they were going to make are inevitably going to be altered. Granted, the actually very-well reviewed I Still Believe has the benefit of advance ticket sales from the past few months working in its favor, but with church groups come big crowds, and that may not be exactly what some moviegoers are eager to be in this weekend. So far, of the three new releases, it’s being reported that Believe is the only doing even remotely well, with Bloodshot performing well below where tracking had it (as for The Hunt, it’s hard to say on that one, as it was probably going to bomb regardless).
Pixar’s Onward, meanwhile, is taking an absolute plunge from what I’ve been reading, and is looking at a second weekend of only $16 million. That’s a terrible number for an animated movie coming from a giant like Disney, and further emphasizes that many are simply choosing to stay home this weekend. Should things keep going as they are, Onward could become the first Pixar film to not cross the $100 million mark, something even The Good Dinosaur was able to pull off.
But next weekend is when everything will get confusing. Without A Quiet Place hitting cinemas, what exactly will movie theaters play instead? Speculation would suggest certain films could make a return–I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Warner Bros. chooses to bring Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey back to a few screens in the hopes of increasing its somewhat underwhelming financial returns–but with Mulan also being out of the equation now, the remainder of March is looking pretty fucking bleak.
And it doesn’t get much better in April. Sony’s No Time to Die was the first film to jump ship because of the current crisis, pushing itself back to November 26th. They did the same thing with Peter Rabbit 2 (which, God help me, actually looks pretty funny!), sending what was clearly intended as an Easter movie off to August. Disney removed The New Mutants (can that film ever catch a break?) and the creature feature Antlers from their calendar, which basically means the only bright spot in April–assuming it doesn’t get moved as well–is DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour. Should it end up being released and if moviegoers feel comfortable going to the multiplexes at that point (it’s set to come out on April 10th, roughly a month from now), the results could be huge, with it even having potential of beating the original’s $153 million gross.
But even then, we’re in uncharted territory. At the time I am writing this, Disney still has Black Widow lined up to kick off the summer movie season on May 1st, but we have no reassurance they won’t change that given how abruptly A Queit Place and Mulan retreated. And if that happens, we would then be looking at the studio juggling around their entire game plan. Black Widow would most likely take the November slot currently occupied by The Eterenals, which would in turn mean that essentially all future Marvel releases would find themselves being pushed back six months.
And assuming that Black Widow does maintain its coveted May launch date, we still have at least three tentpoles which are currently without homes. When can Paramount release A Quiet Place without interfering with one of their other films? How can Disney find space for the massively expensive Mulan in an already crowded market? And will The New Mutants ever be seen by anyone in the foreseeable future?
We can expect for at least one of these films to migrate to the Christmas season, which currently isn’t looking particularly loaded compared to past years. The only true surefire hit on deck is Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake, which is going to be enormous thanks to the popularity of the musical, the brand name the director provides, and perfect timing as far as its release date is concerned. The Dune remake is a total wild card–even if it looks cool from the trailer, science-fiction epics can be tough sells when they aren’t part of a franchise–but is also the only other potential blockbuster currently set for the holidays.
This would leave space for Disney to release Mulan–even though, yes, they will also be responsible for West Side Story’s distribution via the 20th Century Studios banner–possibly around the Friday before Christmas, which would make sense with the absence of a Star Wars extravaganza this year. A Quiet Place, meanwhile, could comfortably come out in the horror-friendly month of September. And The New Mutants, well, that film has to come out someday, right?
All of this is being said under the assumption, of course, that still more movies don’t end up being evacuated. So far, no big release past the month of May has made any unexpected exit. I would like to think that Wonder Woman 1984 is safe with its current early June slot, but if this pandemic gets worse before it gets better as some have been claiming it will, we could be looking at a summer with very few blockbusters…or even open movie theaters. I’m of course hoping that doesn’t happen, but in the era we live in now where international dollars matter to studios almost as much as American ones, anything is possible.
And–make no mistake–a lot of these release date switches largely have to do with worldwide audiences, and how the coranavirus has lead to several movie theaters being shut down in multiple territories. Disney could’ve theoretically still released Mulan stateside as they were going to, but let’s be real here: Mulan was largely made for China more than it was for anyone else, and it wouldn’t have made sense for the Mouse House to send it to the US before they could deliver it to their target audience. Similarly, the Fast and Furious franchise is even more gigantic overseas than it is in the United States–The Fate of the Furious’s titanic global opening weekend alone is proof of that–so it was also logical that Universal would want to ensure they could release it everywhere at once when it finally does come out.
The question is what this does for momentum, though, as Mulan and Fast 9 were both riding on expansive marketing campaigns. Heck, the reveal of the first trailer for Fast 9 came with its own fucking concert a few weeks back. Mulan, meanwhile, just had its world premiere. A Quiet Place: Part II had tickets for large format screen double features of both it and the first film booked for thousands of venues next week. Hype is not always easy to maintain–it’s a bad example, but look at how few people cared that The Hunt finally came to theaters after it made literally hundreds of headlines last year–and while all of these movies are nevertheless still going to be hits, the loss of gas from the tank might be impossible to avoid in some cases.
Of course, the priority is public safety, and I’m a firm believer in it being far better to be safe than sorry. At the same time, some of this shuffling feels a bit premature, and the only comparison I can come up with for any of this was the unease the industry went through during the Writer’s Strike of the late 2000’s. As I said, we’re in completely uncharted territory here, so what happens next is anyone’s guess. All we can do now is hope for the best.
Other fun stuff…
* I’m very late to the game, but Bad Boys for Life was fun and had some great action in it, even if the tone–which alternates between super serious and super silly–could be called somewhat uneven.
* Emma is a great film. I’m not sure if I’d call it better than the beautiful 1996 version (which had an Oscar-winning score by Rachel Portman and a young Ewan McGregor in it for good measure), but Jane Austen fans will definitely want to check it out.
* I still have to go to Onward, which several of my friends have been praising. Fingers crossed I get to go before they close any movie theater doors here.
* Christian films have become the butt of jokes for good reasons, but I did very much like I Can Only Imagine when I saw it with a great crowd, so I imagine I’ll enjoy I Still Believe as well.
* Bloodshot looks dumb, but it also looks like a total blast, so I might check it out. After all, it’s not like there are many other options coming to cinemas over the next few weeks.
* What will YOU be doing this weekend? What does the future hold for the box office? SOUND OFF in the comments!