To say that 2020 has been a strange year would be putting it mildly. In fact, a more accurate statement would be that it was the strangest year ever. Movie theaters shut down starting in mid-March, and remain shut down still today, a full year later (they are reopening soon, in March 2021.). This led to a situation where nearly everything was streaming in one way or another. Everything except Tenant. That was the experiment film put out there to test the waters. .There were actually two movies that were released in theaters… New Mutants and Tenant, but Tenant was the big one that set precedents for all that would follow.

 

Let’s backtrack to the start of all this. It was the March 6th, 2020.  Onward, the Disney animated film, was the last major movie released in theaters. Before that, things seemed pretty normal. Movies like Bad Boys 3 had been released in theaters in February and got the full theatrical rollout, including IMAX screens.

But Onward was the movie that represented the transition from pre Covid times to Covid times. You see,  it was released on March 6th, and then just eleven days later, on March 17th, theaters shut down. By March 20th, Onward was available to purchase, and by April 3rd, it was streaming for free on Disney Plus. We were officially in Covid 19 territory.

Nobody knew how long any of this was going to last. Movie release dates kept getting pushed back. First they were pushed back to the end of summer (late July and August.) Then to the fall. And then to a mixture of dates in 2021. But during those late summer 2020 days, Christopher Nolan pushed for his movie Tenant to get a theatrical run (he filmed lots of it with IMAX cameras, which could only be projected in theaters.) So theaters had to open again just for that movie, which is a very strange thing. They didn’t open in the big cities, but more in small rural towns across the country. And Tenant did not do very well. People weren’t ready to go back into theaters. It was still right smack in the middle of the pandemic.

New Mutants was released in theaters simply so that Disney Plus could be done with it. That was the final movie which had been filmed under 20th Century Fox Studios before Fox was bought by Disney, and Disney was ready to move on. New Mutants had been delayed for years, and that was mostly unrelated to Covid. It was more about reshoots, and the changing hands between the studios. But now, Disney had had enough. They ran out of patience with the movie, and so they dumped it. New Mutants did terribly (as one might have expected,) and Tenant did not do very well either. It didn’t help matters that Tenant was nearly impossible to understand and didn’t do anything to help the audience get through it more easily.

Tenant was the first and last big budget theatrical release by a studio during Covid times. In fact, it’s run was so poorly received, that it prompted Warner Brothers (the studio that put it out,) to release all of its 2021 movies directly to its new streaming service, HBO Max. But before that WB decision, other studios tried their hands at steaming. Netflix went all in with action movies during the summertime, such as Extraction. Hulu put out Palm Springs the smart time-portal comedy with Andy Samberg. Even Tom Hanks’ movie, Greyhound, went directly to streaming (Apple TV.)

Here are the box office numbers for the three highest grossing films between March 2020 and the end of the year. Keep in mind these numbers only apply to movies that were released in theaters, and there weren’t a whole lot of those…

Tenet                                                  57.9 million

The Croods: A New Age.          53.6 million

Wonder Woman 1984.            44 million

Looking at that list, it should be noted that Wonder Woman 1984 was one of those HBO Max streaming release movies. In fact, it was the very first one. It was called Day and Date which means the movie dropped on the streaming platform that same day it went to theaters. And those numbers that made it the number three biggest box office winner came from theaters alone. That doesn’t mean it did especially well. What it means is that the movies on that list were so limited that even a movie which went directly to streaming, cracked the top three.

While most studios decided to just release their movies to streaming, Disney tried something else. It was with their live action movie, Mulan. They tried charging Disney Plus subscribers to see it early. It didn’t quite work. Not enough to do it for all of their new content anyway. Months later, Disney released Soul straight to streaming, no extra charge, and then two months after that, tried for another pay to watch method, just like they did with Mulan, for their movie, Raya and the Last Dragon. So that studio keeps going back and forth with their approach and four release: Onward, Mulan, Soul, and Raya and The Last Dragon.

This pretty much brings us to today. It’s the end of February. We are just weeks away from Oscar nomination announcements. And most movies that will be in contention were films by the streaming giants. Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da Five Bloods and The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix. One Night in Miami and The Sound of Metal on Amazon. Then there’s a few others that practically went straight to video on demand – pay purchase streaming, like Promising Young Woman  (which happens to be the best of the bunch,) and Nomadland. And that’s where we are right now.

 

What will the future bring? Probably more of the same for a while. March looks to be a nice month for streaming, but not much to prompt us to really start going back to theaters. The March streaming calendar includes Raya and the Last Dragon, (March 5th, Disney Plus,) Coming to America 2 (March 5th, Amazon,) Cherry (March 12th, Apple TV,) Zack Snyder’s Justice League (March 18th, HBO MAX,) and Godzilla vs Kong (March 31st, HBO MAX.)

Other than that, the theater situation is anyone’s guess. Black Widow is slated for May 7th, Cruella for May 25th, and Venom 2 for June 25th (probably the most unlikely of all, considering we haven’t even seen a trailer.) Will these movies get pushed back again? And when will people be ready to go back to theaters? My best guess is that Black Widow will be the movie that brings people back. But will people really want to sit in theaters wearing a mask the entire time? Will the rules about mask wearing change before this for people who have gotten the vaccine? We’ll just have to wait and see.