If the pandemic has taught us anything about the box office, when one movie is rescheduled, others could follow like dominoes.
Paramount vacated the remainder of the 2021 theatrical calendar on Wednesday, pushing Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” sequel from November to May 2022, bumping the next sequel to another Cruise franchise, “Mission: Impossible,” further into 2022.
With hard-R “Jackass Forever” also following “Top Gun” to 2022, Paramount’s strategy shift underscores just how drastic of a turn the once optimistic 2021 box office has taken.
In July, domestic weekend gross exceeded $100 million for the first time since the pandemic originally shut down theaters, reaching a level comparable with the low end of pre-pandemic summers.
But what a difference a month makes. The box office is floundering again thanks to new surges of COVID-19 that have sent U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations skyrocketing to a daily average of 100,000 for the first time since January’s peak in cases.
With all this uncertainty, the fates of the following four Q4 films remain questionable.
"No Time to Die" (October 8)
The final Bond film starring Daniel Craig that hits theaters before Amazon finalizes control of MGM, “No Time to Die” desperately needs to turn a profit across global markets, as the situation in the U.S. is simply too dicey for domestic gross to reimburse rising expenses.
Further delays will make getting a return on investment difficult on its $200 million budget, plus at least another $66 million in blown marketing costs. Last year, Bond’s initial postponement from April to Thanksgiving triggered a wave of similar shifts at other studios. Then in early October, MGM shifted the film again from November to 2021.
MGM was largely absent from the box office recovery seen earlier in 2021. Given that the release of “Top Gun” would have been more than a month after “No Time” bowed, Paramount deciding to flee the fall without at least seeing how “No Time” would fare first is a troubling sign for the film, making another delay possible despite how badly that would inconvenience MGM as it looks to secure financial stability.
"Eternals" (November 5)
Unlike Warner Bros., which committed the entirety of its 2021 slate to day-and-date HBO Max releases, Disney’s strategy for simultaneous releasing on Disney+ remains flexible, making the fate of Marvel’s new ensemble feature “Eternals” contingent on the performance of its other new franchise entrant, “Shang-Chi,” when the latter bows exclusively in theaters over Labor Day.
After the surprising performance of live-actioner “Free Guy,” which had to comply with theatrical exclusivity per 20th Century’s Pay-1 output deal with HBO, Disney will watch “Shang-Chi” like a hawk.
While “Black Widow” does hold the record opening of the pandemic, gross dropped off sharply in the second weekend, and “Suicide Squad” opening below expectations could cast doubt on the prospects of “Eternals” meeting Disney’s expectations, especially if “Shang-Chi” underwhelms.
With new animated feature “Encanto” set for Thanksgiving, it’s entirely possible Disney will delay “Eternals” altogether and give the former a hybrid release instead.
"Spider-Man: No Way Home" (December 17)
While Paramount took a drastic turn with its 2021 releases Wednesday, Sony took advantage of the situation, moving “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” a week to the window of “Top Gun.”
This makes some sense, as Sony and Paramount are in different positions. While not a direct competitor in the streaming wars, Sony’s pending sale of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” to Amazon will bring in $100 million, following similar sales of animated films “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “Wish Dragon” and “Vivo” to Netflix.
More important, output deals with Netflix and Disney that kick in at the start of 2022 are set to earn Sony up to $3 billion in licensing fees, which certainly takes pressure off but not enough to make another delay for the next “Spider-Man” unlikely.
Like Cruise and “Top Gun,” “Spider-Man” has found star power in lead Tom Holland, combining with Marvel’s command of the box office to make the hero’s current iteration a billion-dollar baby for Sony.
It certainly won’t be out of place in a summer 2022 date, so expect “Spider-Man” to move if the delta variant remains a serious problem closer to the holiday season.
"Sing 2" (December 22)
The first “Sing” was a domestic and global hit for Universal when it closed out 2016. But like “Spider-Man,” the sequel to the animated franchise could find itself at odds if another COVID surge marks the end of 2021.
However, Universal already experimented with hybrid releasing once with its “Boss Baby” sequel in July that hit Peacock alongside theaters, so it may be time to utilize the streamer for something bigger.
“Sing 2” does come from Universal’s Illumination studio, though, which technically still has an output deal in place with Netflix set to switch to Universal’s Pay-1 arrangement beginning in 2022.
Those plans call for all animated features to hit Netflix after initially streaming on Peacock, so it’s possible Universal is on good enough terms with the streamer to make its own calls on what can and can’t be a hybrid release, unlike Disney with the 20th slate. With Illumination’s “Minions” sequel already delayed to July 2022, a hybrid release for “Sing 2” is worth considering.