Hollywood is scrambling to find a means to survive our new COVID reality.
As Candyman becomes the latest film to be delayed after Wonder Woman 1984 was pushed back yet again we look at what these latest moves mean for the industry and what happens next.
Candyman, the remake of the 90s horror film has become the latest in a long line of films to be delayed. Unlike some other films which have been given alternative (yet tentative) release dates later on in the film schedule Candyman has been moved to ‘2021’. In a since deleted Tweet the film’s Director, Nia Da Costa wrote
‘We wanted the horror and humanity of Candyman to be experienced in a collective, a community, so we’re pushing Candyman to next year, to ensure that everyone can see the film, in theaters, and share in that experience’.
This is something that, frustratingly for those who have braved going back into cinemas, has become increasingly the norm. Da Costa’s emphasis on wanting the film to be seen in theatres is a view shared by the studios. To maximise their revenue they want as many people in a cinema as possible paying to see their films. After that period of cinematic exclusivity ends they want as many people as possible signing up to their own (or others through licensing) streaming services to watch their films. They also want as many people as possible buying physical or digital copies of their films but it all starts with that initial run in cinemas which generates the most revenue and demand for these films. With current social distancing measures in place cinemas are running at a reduced capacity meaning fewer people are actually allowed in to pay to watch films. This has also been exacerbated by an apprehension for some people to return to cinemas, still harbouring concerns about being in confined spaces with other people (something perfectly illustrated by the cinema scene in the 1995 film Outbreak
The studios are banking on a return to normalcy at some point in the not too distant future, with social distancing rules relaxed, cinemas packed and revenue back to pre Covid-19 levels but how realistic is this prospect especially in the short to medium term? With fears of a second wave of the virus coming and Covid-19 cases rising again around the world studios may need to recalibrate their expectations and accept a financial hit in the short term for the benefit of the industry as a whole. Whilst the studios may have the luxury of constantly delaying films, cinemas do not. Cinemas rely on screening new content to get people back inside. With films constantly being delayed and there being nothing new for people to see there is no motivation for them to attend. With cinemas fast losing revenue many of them can downsize or worse still go out of business completely which will have an enormous impact on the studios who rely on as many being open as possible to screen their films as much as possible to maximise their revenue. Studios and cinemas enjoy a symbiotic relationship. They both need each other to survive which is why back in April AMC, Americas largest cinema theatre chain, initially announced a boycott of showing all Universal studio films at their chains after Universal announced that they would continue to simultaneously release some films via both cinema and streaming services after the success of their Trolls World Tour. AMC saw it as a threat to their very existence and responded in kind. They have since made up with the two agreeing on a new arrangement with the significant shortening of the traditional 90 day cinema exclusive window (down to 17 days) with AMC then receiving a portion of the revenue once it goes to streaming services. AMC CEO Adam Aron hailed the deal a success but his two US rivals Cinemark and Cineworld rubbished the move with the Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger surmising it as “the wrong move at the wrong time”.
So if cinemas can’t even agree on a unified strategy to the changing landscape what happens next? Will studios bypass them completely and focus solely on the burgeoning streaming market? With Bill and Ted 3 – Face the Music and Disney’s Mulan being released to streaming services their numbers will be key to determining if this is a viable strategy moving forward. Mulan was looked at as a big money maker for Disney both domestically and abroad (especially in China) but they gave their Disney Plus subscribers to chance to view the film early by paying a ‘Premium Access’ fee of £19.99. This is on top of the subscription fee you pay for Disney Plus. A family of four may see this as a fair price to pay for all of them to watch at the same time but for a single person this may be seen as too high a price and not worth the investment. Price point will be key moving forward to determining how successful this strategy will prove but it is hard to imagine viewers being too hesitant to pay a premium to watch a big blockbuster film akin to an Avengers film which brings us on to its spin-off Black Widow. The film still officially has a 28 October 2020 release date in the UK having been pushed back from its initial May 2020 release date however there seems to be an air of inevitability about the film being delayed again after Tenet’s (relatively) disappointing box office numbers and numerous other films being delayed but does Scarlett Johansson (the industry’s highest grossing actress) have the star power to encourage people to pay a premium to watch her film on a streaming service? I would certainly think so but Disney may not want to take that risk, preferring to perpetually push the film back until a time that it can be seen by as many people as possible in cinemas and return a large profit.
With Wonder Woman 1984 being pushed back to Christmas Day this means that it is currently scheduled to be released only a week after another big Warner Brothers Studios film Dune. Studios generally like to give films space of a few weeks and even more when it comes to big blockbusters not wishing to compete and potentially lose money going head to head with big films that are still early in their release cycle. This is especially true when it comes to films from the same studio but this just highlights another overlooked aspect of constantly delaying films: the space or lack thereof on film release calendars. Films releases are generally planned way in advance to organise press runs and other associated publicity ahead of their release. With films constantly being pushed back this makes the science of releasing films at the right time to not compete with each other even more difficult.
So where does this leave us the viewer? Frustration is definitely rising. There is only so long anticipated films can keep being delayed before viewers just lose interest. The studios may be overestimating the patience of the casual viewer and whilst the hardcore supporter will always be there they can’t take for granted that everyone will just flock back to see their blockbusters as they did before, especially if they have been left to wait too long. Fan/viewer power is definitely a thing but something like the campaign to have Zack Snyder’s Justice League (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut) released took years of dedicated effort. It also helped that it was a commercially viable decision for the studio to make in that it would both satisfy the fans whilst also attracting viewers to their own streaming service. It was a win-win. It is unlikely that similar campaigns will see films stick to their release dates and not be delayed but maybe the time is now for fans to voice their displeasure and put some pressure on studios to be more transparent and open as to their thinking. If they are waiting for a return to normality before releasing films we the public deserve to know rather than being left in limbo with ambiguous ‘future’ release dates that are never stuck to. We are in uncharted territory. Attitudes and expectations will need to change from studios, cinema theatres and viewers for us to survive this. There will need to be give and take on all sides. The old way of doing things may no longer be possible. It is up to all of us to forge a new way ahead taking into account the world we currently live in and the restrictions placed upon us. Constantly waiting is no longer an option. A new path forward needs to be forged that will allow us loyal fans the opportunity to see the films we crave on time. In the short-term at least with the film delays showing no sign of abating all we can do is strap in and try to enjoy the ride whilst maintaining some semblance of hope that things will get better soon. It’s going to be a rough ride. In the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park: “Hold on to your butts”.