Last week, when it delayed Ghostbuster: Afterlife for the second time, Sony sent a dire signal to the film industry, postponing the Paul Rudd-led movie from March to June. Although release delays have become prevalent in 2020, since it expanded into 2021, this one was particularly worrying. The studio may have just been clearing up space for Jared Leto’s Morbius, arriving in March as well, but it feels more and more like a sign of things to come with each passing day.
In September, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter told CNBC that until consumers regain confidence in the safety of movie theaters, the theatrical film industry won’t fully recover. “That means no return to normal until a commonly available vaccine is available, probably not until April to July 2021,” he said.
If this sentiment holds true, and the disappointing performance of the Tenet of Christopher Nolan (which earned only $53 million at the domestic box office) indicates that it is, then it may only be a matter of time until studios begin later in the year to push their 2021 films.
If that is indeed the unfortunate future for which we are headed, here are the films that are most likely to flee to safer waters.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (Sony)—January 15, 2021
With over $350 million worldwide against a $50 million budget, The 2018 original surprised, making the series a nice little profit engine for Sony. Before being pushed to August 7 and then its new 2021 release date, the sequel was initially scheduled for an April 3 release. Yet the least likely to survive these trying box office times is family-friendly content. Understandably, parents have been avoiding movie theaters with young children. Expect Sony to kick Peter Rabbit 2 down the road again or explore alternative release options if the exhibition situation has not improved closer to January.
The King’s Man (20th Century)—February 12, 2021
A toss up between The King’s Man and The Suicide Squad is aware of the worst film title, though both films actually look quite fun. Before COVID-19 struck, the Kingsman prequel origin story was originally set to arrive in September. Both previous films in the series exceeded $400 million worldwide and Mouse House execs are likely hoping for a box office win, given the sorry state of Fox’s releases under the Disney banner.
Should the theatrical situation not improve, we expect Disney to play it safe with The King’s Man. That means delaying the movie until traditional filmmaking is back on its feet again. Fox still operates under a previous distribution agreement in which, after a theatrical release, its movies must go to HBO, so it’s not as if Disney can just redirect the movie to Hulu.
Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney)—March 12, 2021
Walt Disney Animation’s eight most recent films have all grossed at least $500 million at the worldwide box office. When it comes to theatrical revenue, this is a key division for the Mouse House. But the immediate future of filmmaking is in doubt, with Italy re-shutting cinemas and countries across Europe expected to follow suit in the coming days.
Under normal circumstances, Raya and the Last Dragon, which was originally meant to arrive in November, might be a solid moneymaker for Disney. However, under these current circumstances, Disney may choose to send the movie to Disney+ or push it back into the calendar. Since Pixar’s Soul is headed for Christmas streaming, we’re leaning towards the former.
Morbius (Sony)—March 19, 2021
For years, Sony has been desperately attempting to get its own Spider-Man-adjacent Marvel universe off the ground. Now the studio is finally on the verge of achieving that goal, with Tom Holland’s MCU-set Spider-Man likely traversing the multiverse in his upcoming film and Tom Hardy’s Venom earning more than $800 million. The SUMC, however, is still a verifiable house of cards after several false starts over the years. A box office flop from Morbius could knock it all down.
The Jared Leto thriller has already been delayed twice by the studio. With their fledgling comic book universe, they are not going to take any risks.
No Time to Die (MGM)—April 2, 2021
James Bond’s poor. Despite being the first major film to escape its initial release date, the coronavirus pandemic could not be overcome by No Time to Die. MGM and Universal opted to move the film to April 2021 after re-scheduling from April to November after theatrical filming failed to improve in the U.S. The studio costs up to $ 50 million for each delay, which is probably why there have been rumors of MGM sniffing around a streaming sale.
As the swan song of Daniel Craig as 007, under normal circumstances, No Time to Die has $1 billion box office potential. It remains to be seen how long the parties involved are willing to wait on an expensive asset, however.