The upcoming theatrical slate has undergone potentially one of the last major jostling of positions for 2020 as the industry gears up for return of the annual $42 billion sector (2019) in the second half.

The upcoming theatrical slate has undergone potentially one of the last major jostling of positions for 2020 as the industry gears up for return of the annual $42 billion sector (2019) in the second half. Warner Brothers was behind a raft of changes, although Universal and other studios also amended dates. Notably, sci-fi thriller Tenet from director Christopher Nolan was moved to July 31 (from a provisional July 17) and Wonder Woman 1984 from August 14 to October 2. New dates were also given for Godzilla vs Kong from November 20 to May 21 2021, Tom and Jerry from December to March 2021 and Matrix 4 from May 21 2021 to April 1 2022. The Studio has also put the re-release of Inception into the July 17 slot, notably on it’s 10 year anniversary. Roald Dahl’s The Witches from Robert Zemeckis was also pushed back from October 9 to an unspecified slot in 2021.

Outside of Warner Brothers, Solstice Studios moved Unhinged one week back to July 10, where it remains one of the first new releases of the new season. Universal’s Bios has been delayed to April 16, 2021 (from October 2020) while Bill and Ted Face the Music has moved one week ahead to August 14 2020. The recent moves fall into two camps of those delayed by a few weeks or pushed back much later into Q4 2020, and 2021.  The departure from key dates will likely continue to cause a ripple effect, the latest of those is No Time to Die which has now moved up to November 20 after Godzilla vs Kong’s departure.

Our analysis

While a number of key titles have been rejigged, which has been the norm over the past three months, the key takeaways were the shift of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as well as Wonder Woman 1984, two of the largest titles. Cinema operators had used Tenet as a marker for when they need to be fully operational, so a two week delay should be viewed as positive and clearly reinforcing the start of the 2020 blockbuster window (rather than undermining it). It also grants slightly more time for theatres to gear up for this milestone.

The October date of Wonder Woman 1984, the second date change for this title, creates a stronger line up for Q4, but also has the effect of thinning out major titles from Q3, as does the pushback of other major titles into the following calendar year. Nonetheless, Tenet’s new date places Disney’s Mulan as the first major studio release of the new season, as it currently stands, on July 24. It is uncertain if Mulan will also be delayed or kept as a strategic goalpost in the calendar. What is clear, is that although much depends on the outcome of the virus and whether a second wave is coming, the industry is hoping to recover as much lost earning potential as possible (while balancing out optimal release dates for maximum potential), after a record $4.7bn global loss in 1Q 2020, based on our extrapolated research from 15 key international titles compared with 1Q19. According to a number of Scenarios, Omdia expects the global box office to reach approximately $17.5bn in 2020, based on a mid-range Scenario amid a sliding scale of between a 49.0% decline to 76% decline.

While, the majority of international territories (and states) have been given permission to resume operations before end of July, it is clear that not all sites have opened at the first opportunity and that it takes time to train up staff and implement the necessary precautions in a COVID world. Even where markets have continued to run screens, box office takings have been minimal as product was lacking and people were wary. Alternative screening options such as library content and event cinema have, however, remained a viable option.

In China, the second largest global market, cinemas briefly reopened in March, but sustained operation was not viable due to lack of current releases as well as worry over a second wave. Currently, 37% of world screens or over 75,000 have been given permission to open by end of July, although with that the remainder of US States as well as China should also open (not currently granted a firm date), which would push the threshold out to 150,000 or 75% of the global total, including the two major markets. The exceptions to this are most territories in Central and South America (Mexico is partially open) and some territories in the Middle East, which may choose to open later in August or September due to the higher current volume of COVID-19 cases. Qatar currently has one of the latest announced opening dates of 1 September. In short, the majority or 48 of the 75 key territories tracked now have a firm opening date. 

Ancillary to this, a few titles continue to be pushed into streaming platforms, such as The One and Only Ivan which now moves straight to Disney+. The number of titles moving to another platform has remained small and has tended to focus more on independent or family titles, as well as those whose marketing had already ensued (Universal's Trolls World Tour is the prime example). Studios, may of course, choose to select titles that continue to fit this remit, but this remains a different proposition to the more contentious issue of PVOD and shrinking theatrical windows.

However, with Tenet firmly in the theatrical calendar, the target for end of July opening of the major theatrical markets (albeit slightly later than envisaged) feels more rooted and should ensure that Tenet receives acclaim from audiences and industry alike for this renewed commitment in these unprecedented times.