Skittish Studios Sidestep Streaming Option in Latest Round of Film Rescheduling

Skittish Studios Sidestep Streaming Option Latest Round of Film Rescheduling
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

Last week, we did a slate-by-slate examination of the 2021 calendars for major film studios, speculating as to the sort of changes we can expect them to make as the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc, especially stateside.

Since then, multiple studios went ahead and pushed forward or removed the release dates of 14 films. Disney, Sony, Universal and Paramount have essentially kissed the current winter and most of spring goodbye, along with MGM, which moved Bond film “No Time to Die” from April to October.

Further calendar shifts were inevitable. But we did ponder in last week’s piece if the expanding streaming market would be utilized more considerablynow that we’re almost a full year into film exhibition’s near-total stagnation.

But the studios appear adamant about getting these films in front of audiences in theaters.

Despite owning two popular streaming services for scripted content, Disney is dragging its feet in the case of Hulu; likewise, nothing new has been diverted to Disney+.

It’s understandable why Disney may be reluctant to send more films to its highly successful streamer until it has tangible results to examine from “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which bows on the Disney+ service (along with a $30 rental fee) and in whichever theaters are open in early March.

But “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the next film on the Disney slate, was moved from April to October, making Marvel’s “Black Widow” the follow-up to “Raya” in the first week of May.

Far more is riding on “Black Widow” than “Ron,” the latter of which is an animated carryover from 20th Century’s slate back when Fox was still in the film business. Moving “Ron” last week could mean “Black Widow” does have a shot at being the next film to get the Disney+ treatment alongside a diminished theatrical release — a truly sobering outcome for the theatrical market, given how pivotal the Marvel brand has become for the box office’s health.

Despite “Nomadland” getting the dual theatrical-streaming treatment by way of Hulu, it appears Disney won’t utilize the service to a greater degree for its 20th movies, at least for now.

In addition to moving “The King’s Man” to August, 20th has dated several new Searchlight films, as well as “Antlers,” a 2020 holdover that was previously unscheduled.

Sending “Nomadland” to Hulu is an Oscars-driven move, as the film was a festival favorite and needs some degree of theatrical release in order to qualify for the ceremony, which will be held later than usual in April.

Still, “Bob’s Burgers” makes three finished or near-complete films for Disney without a release date (animated “Foster” was dated before COVID and has yet to enter production).

At this point, one must wonder if 20th is exploring an SVOD sale for Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” as it has been off the calendar since last year.

But if the studio feels comfortable filling out the rest of the 2021 calendar with films from its specialty label, the likelihood of Hulu becoming a more extensive movie house anytime soon is slim.

The changes to Universal’s slate were run of the mill. Moved from February, “Nobody” was the most obvious change to make, and Tom Hanks-starrer “Bios” going to August was one of our own predictions.

More unexpected was Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” moving all the way to October, but given how well his “Baby Driver” film did in 2017, it’s a more high-profile title for Focus. As for “Land” and “Boogie,” both are Oscar hopefuls and should remain where they are.

Curiously, the studio has kept “F9” in its current slot, but the “Fast & Furious” sequel is certainly the next film to re-date, and “Marry Me” with Jennifer Lopez is another likely shuffle.

Sony also made fairly predictable moves, switching its modern take on “Cinderella” from February to April and pushing the “Peter Rabbit” sequel from April to the summer. These moves, in turn, bumped the next “Ghostbusters” film to November as “Uncharted,” “Morbius” and “Escape Room 2” were re-dated to 2022.

Interestingly, Sony is keeping “Fatherhood” with Kevin Hart at its current date. Whether this is a bet they’re willing to make is hard to say, but there was a time during the early pandemic when the film was moved up several months to October 2020, presumably to make room for films delayed to 2021. It’s entirely possible this film isn’t one Sony has high hopes for, despite its leading man.

The “Venom” sequel will be the next big film to shift, as “Venom” net Sony more than $850 million globally in October 2018. With nothing dated for this October, Sony should move it there and avoid having to bump something else to next year.

As much as Paramount would love for the “A Quiet Place” sequel to be another box office smashdelaying it once more when it could lead the Paramount+ launch is a misstep.

As long as the “Mission: Impossible” crew continues to heed its star’s warnings, Paramount will have two obvious Tom Cruise hits lined up for the year. Plus, the studio has already sold off quite a lot of films to streamers since the start of the pandemic.

Less-certain financial boons like the Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae-led “Lovebirds along with Aaron Sorkin’s “Chicago 7” made sense to sell off for an immediate buck, but now that Paramount is offloading Eddie Murphy and Chris Pratt-led films, what’s stopping the studio from sending at least one title to Paramount+? As of now, a delayed “SpongeBob” film will be exclusive to the service, but only after it gets a VOD run first.

“Rumble,” “Paw Patrol,” “My Little Pony,” and “Clifford” are all family-friendly titles lined up for 2021, so any one of those could easily make the switch and entice parents to the service. That, or ViacomCBS can cash in on 2000s bro-nostalgia with the new “Jackass” film, provided its aging cast makes it through the production in one piece.

It may be some time before the studios go through another frantic round of extracting films from an abysmal theatrical landscapeIf the studios miss out on another tentpole summer, they may find themselves wishing they’d have taken streaming film as seriously as one head honcho has.