Horror Movie Pileup Should Scare Studios

Horror Movie Pileup Should Scare Studios
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

“Films in Flux” is an occasional VIP column examining the ever-changing theatrical calendar impacted by COVID-19 and what to expect as the situation develops further.

While major film distributors and exhibitors are still fretting over the dwindling remnants of the summer calendar, a more troubling omen has emerged.

“Candyman,” the first film from Universal’s main slate to hit theaters following their theatrical hiatus, was scheduled for September 25 but has now moved to October 16, bumping the follow-up to their highly successful, Blumhouse-produced “Halloween” reboot from 2018.

The omen is the increasing probability that big titles like “Tenet” and “Mulan” will be moving from August into autumn as COVID-19 surges across the U.S. With the potential influx of blockbusters in September poised to damage box office for lesser titles, it’s smart of Universal to either push lesser titles later in the year (“Candyman”) or, for surer bets like “Halloween Kills,” out of 2020 entirely. 

But what’s worse is there’s a lot of films that could follow “Candyman” out of August and September, adding to another headache the studios have yet to shake: their unscheduled films.

When examining films delayed by COVID-19 that lack new dates, there are no identifiable major releases. What is identifiable is that half of these films are of the genre variety. Disney’s two unscheduled 20th Century titles have been off the calendar since their initial delays in March and fall into horror/thriller categories, while Paramount and Lionsgate’s sole stragglers are also horror movies.

Too many major releases moving into September or even October will effectively nullify those months for second-rate horrors and thrillers that perform best in these windows, with films like “It” and “Joker” having become benchmarks for how well R-rated releases can perform when the timing is right.

Now look at what’s releasing from August through September. “The Empty Man” on August 7 is a horror film about a cult; “Antebellum” on August 21 with Janelle Monáe is a horror film with social undertones; “The New Mutants” on August 28 is the long-delayed “X-Men” spinoff said to have a tone that is—wait for it—more horror than superhero. Then there’s the third “Conjuring” film on September 11, whose namesake franchise regularly performs around the range of 2018’s “Halloween.”

Likewise, the sequel to box office hit “A Quiet Place” is scheduled for Labor Day weekend, making it dangerously close to the pool of August releases awaiting further delays should coronavirus spikes worsen. However, this franchise could hold its own alongside tentpoles because of the success of the first film.

But even if “Wonder Woman” remains the only summer tentpole scheduled for October, there simply won’t be enough room to accommodate the chillers should September be conquered by major releases.

All the more reason why Universal was right to act now instead of wait for summer releases to shift into the fall. “Candyman” isn’t a sure bet, but neither are most of the other titles that could crowd October, so it’s better to be a step ahead on this front.

If the list of unscheduled movies does end up growing significantly, it won’t necessarily be the end of the world since SVOD wallets are still open. Netflix recently secured a deal with Paramount to acquire Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and should Apple feel satisfied with how “Greyhound” does on their streaming service when it releases Friday, they’ll want to bolster their film slate further.

At this stage, COVID-19’s impact on the release calendar remains insidious and persistent. For those who view popcorn-throwing jump-scares in the theater as an integral part of the Halloween experience, expect that to be tempered like the holiday itself is bound to be this year. Studios need to make money back fast, and the success of their biggest films is what allows them to afford making scary movies in the first place.

Previous “Films in Flux” entries can be read here and here.