The dating game (or should that be un-dating game) continues unabated. With more titles delaying release or abandoning 2020 altogether how is the calendar shaping up for the remainder of the year and throughout 2021?

Gower Street has once again looked ahead at what is currently dated through the end of 2020 and throughout 2021 in the Domestic market. We’ve compared the number of titles from 2019 released in at least 1,000 domestic theaters and, considering box office results, analyzed how these numbers compare to currently dated upcoming titles of 2020 and 2021 that Gower Street analysts estimate would expect to see a similar minimum-level of release. Please note titles are including in their month of first release irrespective of when their wide-release occurred (e.g. 1917 would be included in December 2019).

Latest Moves

A week ago, Warner Bros’ moved WONDER WOMAN 1984 into a Christmas Day slot from its previous October 2 position. The decision caused much consternation internationally where cinemas are open and business is growing, but where the superhero’s move leaves a two-month gap in major Hollywood tent-pole titles until BLACK WIDOW (itself now the subject of rumored moves). There was also surprise that, for now, Warner Bros has not moved DUNE, dated just a week before Christmas.

Following WONDER WOMAN’s move a trio of other fall titles have also abandoned their dates. Gerard Butler-title GREENLAND, already playing internationally, has moved off Sept. 25 domestically; horror CANDYMAN won’t be scaring audiences until sometime in 2021 after leaving the Oct. 16 weekend; and Sony Animation’s CONNECTED has disconnected from Oct. 23 (CONNECTED’s move came too late to be accounted for in the graphic so October is now a title lower than shown in 2020). All three are currently unset, although both GREENLAND and CONNECTED are said to be potentially looking for dates later in Q4.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that Disney may move both Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW and Pixar’s SOUL off their current November dates (Nov. 6 and 20, respectively). They may only be rumors but Universal’s move up this week of DreamWorks Animation sequel THE CROODS: A NEW AGE from Dec. 23 to Nov. 25 for the Thanksgiving weekend not only gives it space from WONDER WOMAN, it also suggests, if not an expectation of the SOUL move, then an added push to get Disney to make the decision.

The Variety article, published Sept. 15, that brought these rumors to the fore of industry conversation suggested SOUL might even follow MULAN to Disney+, although it also said a “Disney insider” had disputed such a claim. Such a move might well depend on the popularity of Disney+’s premium offering of MULAN, for whom actual uptake results appear conspicuous by their absence.

Where To Go? The Q1 Conundrum

It immediately appears evident on the above image that Q1 2021 (and April) may have little additional space for titles seeking a short Q4 2020 delay. January 2021 may lack a title to rival the $200 million success of this year’s BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (still the biggest Domestic film of 2020), but it already has more titles dated than in the past two years. Key titles currently set include Paramount’s animated RUMBLE; Denzel Washington serial killer thriller THE LITTLE THINGS; dystopian sci-fi CHAOS WALKING, with Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley; Aretha Franklin biopic RESPECT; and family sequel PETER RABBIT 2.

There is also likely to be substantial holdover business from WONDER WOMAN 1984. AQUAMAN made over 40% of its Domestic box office beyond its December 2018 release month, coming out Dec. 21 – 4 days earlier than the WONDER WOMAN sequel.

February is on par with 2019 already, including Marvel’s THE ETERNALS (a possible position for BLACK WIDOW to move to), Sony’s CINDERELLA and another recent 2020-evacuee THE KING’S MAN. February 2019 lacked any titles to rival an MCU blockbuster, with DreamWorks Animation’s HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD the top release with a Domestic lifetime of $160.7 million.

March appears to offer more hope, with 25% fewer titles currently dated for 2021 than 2019. However, those that are there include Disney’s RAYA AND HE LAST DRAGON; another DreamWorks’ animated sequel in THE BOSS BABY 2; Sony’s Marvel title MORBIUS; and Jason Reitman’s GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE. With an MCU title in February and Universal’s F9 arriving right at the start of April for the Easter weekend that’s quite a crush in a winter-early spring corridor that seems almost certain to retain capacity restrictions until a viable and mass-produced vaccine is in play.

April is also already virtually as full as the same month in 2019 with titles supporting F9 including: horror sequel A QUIET PLACE PART II; animation RON’S GONE WRONG; sci-fi BIOS, starring Tom Hanks; Kevin Hart drama FATHERHOOD; and Hugh Jackman romantic title REMINISCENCE.

The early summer is currently less crushed, especially May where there are currently less than half the number of titles seen in 2019. May 2019 was no slouch with leading titles including ALADDIN ($351m), and a trio of $100m+ offerings: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM, POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU, and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Titles set for 2021 include Marvel’s SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS; Disney’s CRUELLA; GODZILLA VS. KONG; and SAW spin-off SPIRAL.

June sees some potentially massive titles in JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION; Pixar’s LUCA; VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE; and musical IN THE HEIGHTS, with only a couple fewer titles, currently, than in June 2019. The same month last year was led by TOY STORY 4 ($427.7M) and THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 ($157.9m), but also witnessed several box office disappointments including MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL ($78.2m) and X-MEN title DARK PHOENIX ($64.9M). Movies looking to do global day-and-date launches next June could be further hampered across Europe by the UEFA Euro soccer championship, which is scheduled to run June 11-July 11 following postponement from this past summer.

In contrast to May and June, July already has three more titles set than seen in the same month of 2019, when juggernauts THE LION KING ($536.5m), SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME ($383.05m) and Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIIME IN HOLLYWOOD ($139.7m) dominated. July 2021 titles include: TOP GUN: MAVERICK; MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU; JUNGLE CRUISE; THE TOMORROW WAR; SPACE JAM 2; and THE FOREVER PURGE.

Signal Lost

With no wide releases on offer throughout the four-month period from April-July 2020 the Domestic market has already suffered significant losses. With more titles now exited the remainder of the year, or moving to its close, Gower Street now estimates end of year business across the market to be approximately $3.78 billion – a drop of two thirds ($7.5bn) year-on-year.

There will inevitably be further moves, but the big question remains whether moves back to later Q4 and into Q1 2021 are likely to be any more secure without a proven and mass-available vaccine available. Capacity restrictions, and therefore the likely space for major wide releases to open with regular frequency, seem certain to remain in place to some degree until the virus is largely under control.

This article was originally published in Screendollars’ newsletter #135 (September 21, 2020).