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The news that the latest instalment in the 007 franchise, No Time to Die, has had its release date yet again pushed back, this time to April 2021, a full year after its original planned release date, has come as a blow to an entertainment industry already handicapped by COVID-19. Following this announcement, Cineworld, the world’s second-largest cinema chain, broke the news that it would be closing all of its venues indefinitely.
Of course, the Cineworld closures are the result of far more than just No Time to Die being postponed, it was merely the last remaining studio tentpole between now and the Christmas season after the likes of Dune and West Side Story formed another domino fall of postponement. With many places in the midst of second waves of COVID-19, many audiences understandably do not feel safe attending cinemas, even with the current safety precautions in place, and not only that but there is very little available to see.
Another key factor in major studio releases being pushed further into next year is the lacklustre box office returns over the summer season. The only major release between cinemas partially re-opening in July and the present was Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Tenet, which had the burden of restarting an industry almost singlehandedly alongside several smaller independent films, and predictably the box office returns were less than what the industry was hoping for, although by no means paltry. Again, a combination of reduced capacity due to social distancing measures, some markets being closed entirely, and audiences staying away out of fear of infection, resulted in studios determining that continuing to release blockbusters in the current climate is too much of a fiscal risk.
While most responses to this were to push release dates back into next year, some low risk-high reward model films like Bill & Ted Face the Music were given a premium video-on-demand release. Premium video-on-demand is proving to be a particularly popular form of release in the current climate, to mixed results; lower budget films have fared more successfully, whereas studio tentpoles like Mulan are believed to have underperformed.
Meanwhile internationally, the Chinese market has continued its re-opening to much success following its recovery from COVID-19, with the Chinese historical war drama The Eight Hundred so far becoming the highest-grossing film of 2020.
In the UK, the recent announcement of a second national lockdown means the remaining Odeon, Vue, and independent theatres still open will have to close once again as leisure industries fall under the government’s definition of non-essential. The already considerable financial strain on the exhibition industry will obviously be exacerbated, and the obvious question is will the government provide substantial aid to an arts sector in peril? Who knows? Maybe there’ll just be another push to re-train in cyber.
So, what upcoming releases do we have to look forward to…and when? After failing to save the world in March with her infamous all-star rendition of ‘Imagine’, Gal Gadot is returning to save the box office this Christmas with Death on the Nile and Wonder Woman 1984. Will she succeed? Only time will tell, but if COVID-19 cases continue to rise then it’s possible that the Hollywood studios may pull yet another Charlie Brown football-swipe with the release dates, which means the UK won’t really be missing out on all that much should the current national lockdown be extended over the Christmas period.