3 Upcoming Theatrical Releases That Omicron Could Change

3 Upcoming Theatrical Releases That Omicron
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” may still be filling seats in cinemas, but COVID-19 is still reshaping 2022 theatrical programming two weeks into the year.

Pixar’s “Turning Red” saw its March release diverted by Disney to an exclusive bow on Disney+ after prior Pixar films “Luca” and “Soul” got the same treatment, a move that reportedly stunned animators at the lauded Disney subsidiary.

This follows Sony delaying its next Marvel film “Morbius” from late January to the start of April, Disney plucking 20th Century’s psychological thriller “Deep Water” from the calendar and Universal moving horror film “The Black Phone” from January to June as the studio extends the February release of romcom “Marry Me” to a simultaneous debut on Peacock.

While the surge of the highly contagious omicron variant may finally be waning in the earliest U.S. cities impacted by it, there is still a crop of films on the calendar that could see further release changes. 

These are the likeliest titles:

“Moonfall” (February 4)

Sporting a reported $140 million budget from AGC Studios for a Lionsgate release, “Moonfall” is the first film of the year that has the chance to gain tentpole status, but not belonging to a preexisting franchise makes it risky to release before the omicron wave subsides.

For instance, the Jan. 7 weekend saw Universal’s star-studded, female-led actioner “The 355” open to less than $5 million vs. $33 million for box office juggernaut “Spider-Man” and $12 million for Universal’s animated “Sing 2” family film from Illumination. Like “Moonfall,” “The 355” is new studio IP.

The $34 million four-day opening for “Scream” over Jan. 14 presents the first flicker of hope for 2022, but it’s important to remember “Scream” benefits from franchise familiarity and had a $24 million budget — that’s far less than “Moonfall,” making “Scream” an appropriate risk for Paramount to take.

With release just under three weeks away, it’s now or never for a “Moonfall” delay if that’s in store. As hasty of a move as that would be, a lot is riding on this film for Lionsgate, as the studio in December had to delay the fourth installment of crown gem “John Wick” from May to 2023.

Lionsgate barely scraped past $100 million in gross for its 2021 slate — by contrast, fellow mini-major MGM was able to surpass $300 million thanks to “No Time to Die” — so it needs something in 2022 to really shine.

If the current box office doesn’t look conducive enough for “Moonfall” to stand out, Lionsgate and AGC may need to work out a last-minute arrangement for a later date.

“Uncharted” (February 18)

Fresh off his run in the record-breaking “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” Tom Holland will return to theaters as the goofy video game hero Nathan Drake for “Uncharted,” the first release to come from Sony Pictures’ PlayStation Productions banner.

This isn’t the kind of film Sony wants to slump given the talent involved, which counts Mark Wahlberg alongside Holland, and the studio already elected to move “Morbius” from its intended Jan. 28 release.

While “Morbius” is part of the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters, a sister franchise to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe that Holland’s Spider-Man is part of, “Morbius” was still introducing a new hero played by Jared Leto and wasn’t guaranteed the same level of attention as the “Venom” films have gotten.

If Sony is willing to be this cautious with Leto, then it makes sense for another “Uncharted” delay to be on the table if the box office doesn’t rebound from the omicron wave anytime soon. No one would want to waste the star power of Holland at this moment.

“The Batman” (March 4)

While CEO Jason Kilar indicated last week that WarnerMedia still feels good about its current release plans, a lot is riding on “The Batman” to right the wrongs of 2021.

Warner Bros. has already committed to keeping its theatrical releases exclusive to theaters for 2022 after its 2021 experiment of releasing each film in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously resulted in muted openings for much of the slate, particularly DC’s “The Suicide Squad,” which underperformed and was exceeded by the critically panned “Space Jam” sequel.

This makes “The Batman” the first big Warner Bros. release to hit theaters and only theaters since 2020’s “Tenet.” While not technically part of the DC Extended Universe, the Robert Pattinson-led standalone DC film has big shoes to fill after the huge success of 2019’s “Joker,” which surpassed $1 billion globally despite its graphic R-rated violence.

Warner Bros. would love nothing more than for “The Batman” to be another pandemic breaker like “Godzilla vs. Kong” was when it hit theaters at the end of March 2021, but domestic film gross has since set much higher benchmarks. The studio needs to be sure conditions are good enough for “The Batman” before it fully locks down its March 4 release.