Many Big Movies Need New Launch Dates. Here’s What October 2020 Could Look Like

Many Big Movies Need New Launch
Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

With well over a dozen major motion pictures forced to find new weekends to launch due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the studios are confronted with a scheduling nightmare for many months to come. But VIP is here with an occasional series that offers guidance on how this should all play out. First up: October 2020.

Not that long ago, October wasn’t regarded by studios as a time frame conducive to important releases. The month has typically been popular for genre fare, with horror, thriller, scifi and action movies not always tied to franchise IP. 

But this will change. 

Last year, Warner’s “Joker” simultaneously had the best October opening weekend and top-grossing global run for an R-rated film ever, showing that off-summer months without federal holidays can be lucrative times to roll out a big release. Still, the studios must be cautious.

Upon first glance, the vacant Halloween weekend looks like the obvious choice to reschedule something, but that vacancy presents a problem. November 6 is Marvel territory via the newly rescheduled “Black Widow,” and studios prefer more than one profitable weekend for big films, especially if Disney isn’t leering around the corner. 

Similarly, two of the 10 most successful October showings from the 2010s—”Venom” and “Halloween”—have sequels booked for October 2 and October 16. The 2nd also has Universal scifi drama “BIOS” with Tom Hanks as a post-apocalyptic inventor who decides to build an android for company (quite the upgrade from a volleyball 20 years ago), making that weekend a no-go zone for anyone else looking to make money.

With “Venom 2” leading the month and Kevin Hart drama “Fatherhood” debuting later in October, don’t be surprised if Sony’s recently delayed Hanks-led WWII naval drama “Greyhound” hits theaters in December, as the holiday-driven success of war film “1917” is bound to repeat itself again.

As for the 16th, the next Jason Blum-produced “Halloween” film is a big deal after the reboot’s impressive 2018 showing, but with nothing else scheduled, we’ll see at least one other film that isn’t a slasher go here. One option could be Warner’s animated “Scooby-Doo” reboot, which was originally set to release the same weekend as a “Saw” film in May. October 9 and October 23 already have multiple studio releases scheduled, so something getting bumped to accommodate one of the COVID delays is a more probable outcome.

Plus, the clock is ticking. Even though Universal elected to cast “Trolls World Tour” to the internet and push the “Minions” sequel to 2021, they still have three films spanning May, June and July that are sure to be delayed, including “Run Sweetheart Run,” and a new “Purge” film, which both work as October movies. Granted, “Sweetheart” had an earlier release date than “Candyman,” which was just postponed to September, so Universal might consider “Sweetheart” as its next day-and-date VOD release, as their two previous Blumhouse films became internet rentals shortly after hitting theaters.

But with Disney having made its biggest calendar shifts today, what should the studios do to manage their 2020 films still in purgatory as the delay pileup gives way to a rush of reschedulings?

With tentpole films “Mulan” and “Black Widow” getting new releases, alongside “Jungle Cruise’s” shift to 2021 and “Artemis Fowl” becoming a Disney+ exclusive, the box office juggernaut is now tackling the headache of its inherited 20th Century slate.

“The New Mutants” and “The Woman in the Window” are the most immediate priorities. The former is spun off from the “X-Men” films and has already been delayed tenfold, making it unwise to hold onto much longer, while the latter is a thriller in the vein of “Gone Girl,” starring Amy Adams. Making things more complicated, 20th Century has “Murder on the Orient Express” sequel “Death on the Nile,” and musical drama “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” scheduled for October 9 and 23, respectively. On top of that, they just moved another Searchlight film, Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” to October 16.

“Orient Express” had a great showing domestically and abroad in 2017, so its sequel will stay. Likewise, stacking two Searchlight films next to each other suggests Disney has higher hopes for its main 20th titles, so “Mutants” and “Woman” will skip October. Disney should read the gloom of October and offload Searchlight film “Antlers” instead, preferably in the spot “Jamie” occupies given that “Antlers” is a gory monster film more fitting for the latter end of the month than an uplifting musical. Likewise, “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” Armando Iannucci’s first film after “The Death of Stalin,” is too niche to be stealing any audiences; we’ll see it another time.

Warner has two films with notable cast booked for October 9 and 23, so bumping either of those for former June release “In the Heights,” Jon M. Chu’s follow-up to “Crazy Rich Asians” adapted from a Lin-Manuel Miranda play, would be a disservice to their scheduled films and the intended summer hit. 

“Scoob!” could fit into the October 16 slot as a breath of fresh air for parents who don’t want Michael Myers to traumatize their kids, but that would force Warner to release two family-aimed films on consecutive weekends. “Scoob!” isn’t a surefire hit anyway, so a likelier outcome is “Malignant” from horror aficionado James Wan releasing the 30th; it doesn’t have an audience-pulling cast and would have been a meandering August film had it not been bumped to accommodate “Wonder Woman 1984.”

However, Halloween has historically been the home of a horror franchise Wan created himself: “Saw.” The ninth film, “Spiral,” is a Chris Rock-led reimagining of the torturous Lionsgate IP, and all eight of the previous entries were late October releases. Even if Lionsgate had higher hopes for “Spiral” given its original mid-May release date, this film is a gamble and they should play it safe since their other two horror-thrillers “Antebellum” and “Run” are solo efforts with no built-in audience. Plus, Lionsgate needs to act fast; A24’s horror film “Saint Maud” is also postponed and would be a perfect Halloween release.

That leaves us with Paramount. The studio was enjoying a redemption arc started by “Sonic the Hedgehog,” which had grossed more than any of the studio’s 2019 releases by the time the pandemic forced them to delay what might be their biggest film of the year, “A Quiet Place Part II.” The sequel to the smash 2018 box office hit will now compete against Sony’s “Monster Hunter” on September 4, a move that will squash Sony’s attempt to resurrect the success of its Screen Gems label by hiring the same director/star duo from the “Resident Evil” films to helm another video game adaptation.

After a slew of calendar switches, planned Christmas release “The Tomorrow War,” a scifi action flick with Chris Pratt in the lead, has now been bumped to make room for the long-awaited “Top Gun” sequel with signature star Tom Cruise back in action.

Securing vital dates for such highly anticipated sequels to “Top Gun” and “A Quiet Place” were massive priorities for Paramount, whose parent company has accrued a sizable amount of debt since the COVID-19 crisis ground the box office to a halt. Likewise, sending a potentially profitable film with the lead from “Jurassic World” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to October isn’t an affordable move for the studio, so “The Tomorrow War” won’t get an earlier release.

On the opposite end, Paramount was already willing to release English import “Blue Story” on the same weekend as “A Quiet Place,” making it as low as priorities go, so expect to see it on VOD or in theaters once they open up again.

As the pool of films delayed by the pandemic continues to erase the summer calendar, VIP will revisit the movies in stasis to predict where they could end up next.