Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and there are days when viewing the pop culture landscape I might be sorely tempted to join you – then you are no doubt aware that, in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, the theatrical landscape for film releases has dramatically altered. Gone for the time being are the lookie-loos that would Monday morning quarterback theatrical release numbers, deeming some lucky movies as winners at the all-important box office and others as also-rans that, for whatever reason, could not capture the hearts (and pocketbooks) of the public at large. That model has been replaced by one heretofore unseen during the reign of Hollywood, a model where films once all but guaranteed to bust box office records now find themselves on a more even playing field with other movies that have found a new cache with the advent of streaming. If you’re something of a traditionalist, it can be a little disconcerting: Imagine the scene in the Harold Ramis film National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark Griswold and family suddenly find themselves slumming it up with Cousin Eddie and family. Now apply that scene to Chris Nolan’s 2020 classy surefire summer hit Tenet as it jostled for space with such fare as The New Mutants. Although not a flop by any means, one can’t help but picture dazed and confused Tenet alums Robert Pattinson and John David Washington sitting across a Formica dinner table (i.e. one of the oodles of streaming services) as they listen to the wit and wisdom of Randy Quaid’s unflappable Eddie Johnson (“I got laid off when they closed that asbestos factory, and wouldn’t you know it, the army cuts my disability pension because they said that the plate in my head wasn’t big enough…”). Sobering, isn’t it? Welcome to the world of cinema in 2021, Junior Woodchucks where all bets are off and the only sure-bet seems to be straight-to streaming movies. To illustrate how in flux it all is comes this bit of news about Universal – one of the very few big holdouts in fully embracing a streaming model for their films – and their decision to yet again push back release dates for anticipated film such as F9 (also known around my house as The Fast and Furious Part 9) and their Minions sequel.
According to our Too Cool for School colleagues over at Variety, Universal will continue to eschew a straight-to-streaming release for some of their bigger movies in favor of the more traditional release in theaters, even if it means sitting on finished product and pushing back scheduled release dates. Consider this a movie that no one even knew they were asking for: Universal Pictures VS. COVID-19.
F9 has been delayed for the fourth time with today’s announcement; originally scheduled in simpler times to open on May 22, 2020, that drop date was quickly amended in light of surging pandemic numbers to nearly a year for an April 2, 2021 release. This third push-back on dates for the immensely successful franchise then came with an announced May 28, 2021 release where F9 was expected to comfortably slide into the date vacated by the latest James Bond offering. Are you dizzy enough yet? With today’s reveal, F9 will now “officially” get its theatrical moment in the sun on June 25, 2021.
Joining Vin Diesel and crew in the Hurry Up & Wait line is another eagerly anticipated Universal offering, Minions: The Rise of Gru. This family favorite franchise may have it even rougher than its muscle-bound compatriot: Its release date was officially knocked from July 2, 2021 to – GULP! – July 1, 2022.
These delays come as American movie houses are struggling just to stay afloat. No less of a stalwart in the theater chain business than the vaunted Alamo Draft House has just filed for bankruptcy and other chains are struggling to keep the lights on with diminished crowd capacity and the public’s recent fixation with the streaming model.
Light is at the end of the tunnel however, Dear Readers. The recent release of cartoon legends Tom and Jerry in a feature film and computer animated cat nip like The Croods: A New Age, while not setting the box office on fire, displayed surprising legs with better-than-average weekend box office tallies, indicating that as things slowly return to some modicum of normal there is still an actual hunger by film fanatics to see their movies where they’ve always been intended by filmmakers for them to be viewed: In an honest-to-Pete movie theater. Now there’s logic that even Cousin Eddie couldn’t argue.