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‘No Time to Die’ Sets Off Another Round of Big Movie Delays – When Will Box Office Recover?
Epidemiologists warn of delays to widespread vaccination, suggesting that other tentpoles like “Black Widow” may be the next to move
MGM on Thursday announced what has been expected for weeks: The 25th James Bond film, “No Time to Die,” is moving again from April to October 2021. That kicked off a new wave of postponements of major Hollywood titles: Universal moved Tom Hanks film “Bios” from April to August; Sony delayed five of its upcoming films, including “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and “Peter Rabbit 2;” and Disney pushed at least three films from its spring slate, including “The King’s Man.”
For studios, the reality has set in that the coronavirus vaccine will not be rolled out quickly enough to reopen the roughly two-thirds of North American movie theaters that remain shuttered because of the pandemic. And that means holding off on unspooling any big titles to mostly dark theaters.
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“The news that there wasn’t a solid vaccination plan in place when the new administration arrived is just confirmation that spring was too optimistic a timeframe for releasing films again,” Boxoffice analyst Shawn Robbins said. “It’s just a matter of time before we see the rest of the April slate move,” he added, mentioning the John Krasinski sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” that Paramount still has slated for release on April 23.
The latest delay of the James Bond film isn’t much of a surprise. As TheWrap reported last fall, “No Time to Die” is a film critical to the financial future of distributor MGM, for whom it is by far the most lucrative franchise. In addition, because of the particular importance that the U.K. and Europe have for the box office potential of Bond films, MGM needs the COVID vaccine to be widely distributed and theaters to be reopened on both sides of the Atlantic before the film can be released.
“No Time to Die” was last moved back in October after surging COVID-19 infections in the U.K. and U.S. were reported. The move prompted a wave of theater closures in both countries, most notably all locations owned by the British chain Cineworld.
Back in the U.S., the vaccine rollout appeared to stall in the final weeks of the Trump administration — and new President Joe Biden’s efforts to ramp up production and distribution could take weeks or even months to help hit the goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office.
Delays in combating the pandemic also mean a slower return to “normal” for society at large, including movie theaters. Epidemiologists in some states are warning that it may not be until well into the summer before younger adults — the lifeblood of the blockbuster box office — will be able to access the vaccine.
On Thursday, California epidemiologist Dr. Erica Han warned in a vaccine advisory committee meeting that unless the state receives more than 300,000-500,000 vaccines per week, it will take until June for the state to completely vaccinate residents over the age of 65. In Los Angeles, one of the largest box office markets in the country, health officials have only received about 20% of the 4.1 million doses it will need to completely vaccinate all health care workers and residents over 65 in the county.
These timetables have been a major blow to hopes in Hollywood that box office recovery could begin this spring. And the delays have had a domino effect as summer titles like Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” are headed to the fall, while films like Tom Holland’s “Uncharted” and “Morbius,” a Sony Marvel movie starring Jared Leto, have been pushed off to 2022.
Even Universal and Focus Features, which have a theatrical window-shortening deal with AMC and Cinemark on their films, also decided this week to move films like Tom Hanks’ “Bios” and Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” from April to October.
And if a vaccine isn’t widely available by May or June, even harder decisions will come for blockbusters like Disney/Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow,” Universal’s “F9,” and Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” Studios will have to decide whether a day-and-date release in both theaters and on streaming or PVOD will be financially feasible, or if the slate-wide release date shuffling that came to define the film industry in 2020 will continue.
“Every studio is in a different position, but if three weeks from now it doesn’t look like the situation is going to improve anytime soon, you might see Disney make some interesting decisions with ‘Black Widow’ and Disney+,” Robbins said.