Increasing rates of Covid infection due to the delta variant has studios agonizing once again over what to do with major releases.
When the pandemic seemed to be retreating in early summer, entertainment executives felt comfortable making longer-term plans, setting theatrical release dates for upcoming blockbusters like “Dune,” the “Top Gun” sequel “Maverick,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” and the latest film in the James Bond franchise, “No Time To Die.” But as Covid infection rates surge again, Hollywood is once more scrambling to shift gears.
Paramount was the first to change course a few weeks ago, announcing that it was removing the family film, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” from its release calendar for the time being. Then Sony, too, blinked, turning to the streamers to once again salvage what investment it could from a major film. The company decided to sell the sure-thing animated hit “Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania” to Amazon rather than proceed with a theatrical debut as planned. Sony execs also decided to delay the sequel to Tom Hardy’s surprise 2018 hit, “Venom,” by three weeks, moving it from September 24 to October 15. And according to The Hollywood Reporter there are rumors the studio could delay it again.
As one anonymous executive told THR, “If I knew six weeks ago what I know now, I would have moved everything as far out as early next year.” And another told the outlet, “[I] would have said ‘no’ to the chance of another major calendar migration six short weeks ago. ‘Now, it’s a maybe.’”
Yet some evidence suggests Hollywood may be acting too quickly. Already, California is seeing signs that the Delta variant may have already reached its peak in the state and is slowing down.
According to analysis by the Los Angeles Times, the below-ten-percent increase the Golden State saw last week represents a marked improvement. “California is now reporting about 11,800 new coronavirus cases a day over the last week, up 7% from the previous week,” reported the outlet. The story added, “That’s a far slower pace of increase than in the previous week, when there was a 30% jump in daily cases, and much better than in early July, when there was an 86% week-over-week increase. Daily cases remain far below the pandemic peak of nearly 45,000 new cases a day.”
A recent survey from the National Research Group shows audience willingness to see movies in a public setting has seen a steep decline of late, with only 64% of moviegoers reporting that they’re “very or somewhat comfortable” to visit theaters now compared to 81 percent in early July.
That puts studios between a rock and a hard place, facing poor earnings if they decide to push ahead with theatrical releases but risking lawsuits from angry stars if they shift to a streaming or hybrid release option.
The one bright spot is that polling on moviegoers’ fears may be overblown. The impressive performance of Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy” at the box office this past weekend, taking in $28 million with no franchise or comic book tie-in, suggests that if Hollywood releases it, audiences might still come.
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