From "Trolls" to Oscars' Rules: Here's How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Already Changed the Film Industry
Each May, theaters kick off the summer blockbusters, with Memorial Day Weekend serving as one of the most lucrative movie-going times of the year. As with most things, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into Hollywood’s release schedule. The newest (and 25th) James Bond film, No Time to Die, had to learn to die (well, debut) another day, with MGM and Universal pushing its release from April to Thanksgiving 2020.
Other big-budget blockbusters, like Disney’s Mulan, Marvel’s Black Widow and the DC Comics/Warner Bros. sequel Wonder Woman 1984, have all been pushed back. Needless to say, the summer release schedule is looking a little bleak — at least for now. The Great Rescheduling™ started in early March, just as the novel coronavirus reached pandemic status and followed the shuttering of China’s 70,000 theaters — a.k.a. the world’s second-biggest box-office territory. But the impact of the novel coronavirus extends much further than some scheduling issues. In fact, it has resulted in surprise video-on-demand blockbusters, Hollywood feuds and, perhaps most surprisingly, the notoriously slow-to-change Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ loosening of the qualifications for the Oscars.
Hollywood Pushes “Onward” Amid the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic
Thanks to highly anticipated films like Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker, Disney set a global box-office record in 2019, pulling in over $11 billion. While 2020 may not have had the same lineup as last year, the entertainment giant was still debuting some real blockbusters, including the live-action remake of Mulan, which had nabbed a simultaneous rollout in Asia and North America — that is, until the pandemic unfolded, causing Disney to push the release date from March to (potentially) July.
The Fantabulous Emancipation of One “Trolls World Tour”
Animated jukebox musical Trolls World Tour is a sequel to 2016’s surprise hit Trolls, which garnered $346 million worldwide against its $125 million budget and nabbed an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Despite this success, the Anna Kendrick- and Justin Timberlake-starring franchise didn’t have the same fanbase as, say, a Pixar film or the Despicable Me series.
A Feud Is Born
The only problem? Universal didn’t give theater owners a heads up about the digital release, and NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell even suggested that, in the future, Universal films would have more simultaneous releases. In response, AMC Theatres stated that the chain would no longer play the studio’s films if that were the case and, not long after, Regal Cinemas jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that the chain would not be showing films that "fail to respect the [theatrical] windows."
To Release or Not to Release? That Is the Question
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, digital releases for movies like Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey and Frozen II were pushed up. Of course, those films had been out for months, meaning their theatrical runs had essentially ended. Pushing up digital drops is one thing, but same-day releases becoming the new norm is something entirely different. Without a doubt, that sort of trend would reshape the film industry, not just for audiences, but for all those involved in making movies. If studios get a larger cut from digital releases, why wouldn’t they go for it? And then there are certain studios, like Disney and Netflix, that can encourage folks to buy subscriptions to their streaming platforms by offering same-day digital and theatrical content.