Christmas seemed to come early for the country's struggling cinemas when Hollywood studio Warner Bros announced that Wonder Woman 1984 was holding to a Boxing Day release despite widespread expectation that it would be delayed until well into next year.
But then came another setback: the family sequel Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, which was also due out on Boxing Day, is being pushed back until Easter.
Holding to a Boxing Day release in Australia: Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984.Credit:Warner Bros
With huge numbers of cinemas around the world closed because of the pandemic, movie release schedules have been changing rapidly since Tenet opened to uninspiring box office in August.
Other Hollywood blockbusters were either postponed (including Black Widow and No Time To Die) or went directly to a streaming service (including Mulan and Pixar's Soul).
But Warner Bros has decided that Wonder Wonder 1984 will stick with a Christmas Day release in the US, with a bold strategy to open simultaneously in cinemas and on the struggling streaming service HBO Max.
Given HBO Max does not operate in this country, the sequel that reunited director Patty Jenkins with star Gal Gadot became the Australian cinema industry's great hope for improved trading on what would normally be the most popular movie-going day of the year.
Now skipping Boxing Day: Peter Rabbit 2.Credit:Sony
The chief executive of the Hoyts chain, Damian Keogh, said the decision was hugely encouraging given that cinemas had been struggling with reduced capacities, the lack of strong films and the longtime closure in Victoria until their re-opening this month.
"It's probably the best news we've had in the industry since Tenet launched," he said. "It potentially sets up a lot of optimism for a stronger road to recovery for cinema on Boxing Day and into January. And hopefully it will entice other studios to continue to release content."
Mr Keogh said the latest weekly box office was only about 30 per cent of the same time last year.
"It's been a drought created largely by massive COVID numbers in the northern hemisphere," he said. "But we're seeing a great willingness of Australians, as they've got more confident about low virus numbers, returning to our cinemas."
The chief executive of distributor Roadshow Films, Joel Pearlman, said Boxing Day was the ideal release date for Wonder Woman, especially given the successful opening of another DC Comics superhero movie, Aquaman, on the same day two years ago.
"It's been incredibly tough for exhibitors," he said. "There has been so many changes to release schedules over the past few months and in Victoria they've been closed so it's been some of the most challenging conditions [the industry] has ever faced."
Mr Pearlman said success managing virus numbers in Australia and New Zealand also gave Roadshow confidence about the release of two Australian films in January – the Eric Bana crime thriller The Dry and the Naomi Watts-Andrew Lincoln drama Penguin Bloom.
But then came another schedule change.
Sony Pictures executive vice president for the region, Stephen Basil-Jones, said the Peter Rabbit sequel would be delayed until March 18 because of the surge in virus numbers around the world, especially in the US and UK.
"Obviously Boxing Day is the prime day – the big day if you've got a good film for the right audience – and Peter Rabbit was going to be then but the world didn't co-operate," he said.
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