‘Star Wars’ Films, ‘Avatar’ Sequels Pushed Back a Year in Disney Release Calendar Shakeup

Audiences looking to escape from the relentless drumbeat of depressing headlines will have to wait a little longer to journey to Pandora or an even more famous galaxy far, far away.

With coronavirus cases surging in the U.S. and new hotspots breaking out around the globe, Disney announced major changes to the studio’s release calendar. Most notably, the epic shakeup of film debuts involves delaying its “Star Wars” movies and “Avatar” sequels by a year.

The studio still plans to dominate moviegoing around the holidays when theaters are hopefully able to reopen. Each year between 2022 and 2028, Disney will release a new “Star Wars” adventure or “Avatar” follow-up.

James Cameron’s long-delayed sequels to Avatar” will now premiere every other December starting in 2022 as follows: “Avatar 2” (Dec. 16, 2022), “Avatar 3” (Dec. 20, 2024), “Avatar 4” (Dec. 18, 2026) and “Avatar 5” (Dec. 22, 2028). The second “Avatar” installment, which was originally aiming to open in 2014, will debut 13 years after the first film.

Meanwhile, a trio of “Star Wars” movies will debut around Christmas every other year starting in 2023. The first of three films will launch on Dec. 22, 2023, and two follow-ups will hit theaters Dec. 19, 2025, and Dec. 17, 2027. The studio has kept its cards close to its chest about what those films will entail.

The news comes as part of a huge shift in release dates unveiled by Disney as cinemas remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Mulan,” a live-action remake of the classic cartoon, has been taken off release calendars. It was supposed to hit the big screen on Aug. 21, a date that felt increasingly unlikely since global theaters haven’t been able to open to a significant degree.

Interestingly, Thursday’s release date shuffle didn’t include “The New Mutants,” the superhero thriller the studio inherited from Fox. For now, the oft-delayed comic book adventure is still slated for release on Aug. 28, 2020.

In another curious move, Disney delayed “The Personal History of David Copperfield, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel from its Searchlight banner, back by a mere two weeks to Aug. 28, 2020. It’s unclear how the public health situation will have meaningfully improved in such a short time period. Another Searchlight title, Wes Anderson’s comedic drama “The French Dispatch,” has also been removed from Disney’s release calendar, while producer Guillermo del Toro’s horror film “Antlers” has been postponed until Feb. 19, 2021.

Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel,” a historical epic starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, was originally scheduled for limited release on Christmas 2020 and will instead open nationwide on Oct. 15, 2021. The film had been seen as a potential Oscar contender.

Disney hasn’t entirely moved films out of 2020. Kenneth Branagh’s murder mystery “Death on the Nile” has been shifted back two weeks to Oct. 23, 2020. Later in the year, supernatural horror film “The Empty Man” will release on Dec. 4, 2020.

In the past few months, Disney has mixed up its entire slate. As it still stands, Marvel’s “Black Widow” is set for Nov. 6, 2020, Pixar’s animated “Soul” will launch on Nov. 20, 2020, Ryan Reynold’s action adventure “Free Guy” is scheduled for Dec. 11, 2020, and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake will premiere Dec. 18, 2020.

However, it’s highly likely that release dates for any movie from any studio will remain fluid for the foreseeable future. There’s still no sense of when cinemas in New York City and Los Angeles, two of the biggest moviegoing markets in the country, will be able to reopen. Overseas, however, could be a saving grace for the exhibition community, since multiplexes in other parts of the world have been more successful in their plans to safely reopen.