When I published my last movie season preview here in April, I knew that it was on the optimistic side and would’ve likely changed over the course of the summer. Sadly, the worst case scenario played out. 2020 will be a historic year for the film industry, because for the first time in who knows how long, there was no Summer movie season. Movie theaters remained shuttered for the entirety of what used to be the most profitable period of the year, and only now are some of them (not all) beginning to reopen for business here in America. Some of my last summer movie preview covered movies that I was hopeful would make it to the big screen on time, and almost all of them failed to meet their original release date, with only Bill & Ted Face the Music (of all movies) actually sticking the landing. For a movie fan like me who greatly prefers the big screen experience, it’s been a rough couple of months. Not only am I seeing so many movies I’ve been excited for be pushed back months or even a year away from it’s original date, but some of the studios have just given up and dropped their movies off on streaming services. I’ve already covered the boom of streaming content plenty during this pandemic, but I will add that my hope is that all these measures taken is just to get us through the crises of the moment, and that things will turn around soon, giving us a chance to return back to normal soon. I feel bad for the people behind movies like Mulan and Tenet, as they are seeing their films roll-out in a less than desired way. My hope is that within the months ahead, it will be safe to once again watch movies on the big screen, and that the movies of Fall 2020 don’t see the same disruptions in their roll-out that their Summer cousins endured. Like my last preview, I am foregoing my usual categories, and instead just spotlighting the most notable movies coming out in the Fall season; hopefully with all of them managing to avoid any postponement. Anything could change between now and New Years, but hopefully for these movies, we’ll still be enjoying them this Fall season.
DUNE (DECEMBER 18, 2020)
What was already one of the year’s most anticipated new films from the start still remains the most anticipated movie of this holiday season. Based on Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel of the same name, Dune is a grand scale epic that people are hoping will be the movie that brings people back to the big screen in a major way. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) will undoubtedly bring a bold artistic style to this film, and with major studio backing from Warner Brothers, this movie will almost assuredly demand a big screen presentation just to capture the immensity of it all. This movie could very well be for science fiction what Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was for fantasy. The movie also boasts an impressive all-star cast that includes Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, and Dave Bautista just to name a few. For many fans of the book, this movie will also satisfy a long held desire for a faithful adaptation that feels truer to Herbert’s vision, after David Lynch’s failed 1984 version left much to be desired. It’s going to be interesting if Warner Brothers can pull this off, but you get the sense already that they are hedging their bets. Nearly 3 months out from the scheduled release date, and we still don’t have a trailer. That’s unusual for a big movie of this kind, and it makes people wonder if this will be yet another big tent-pole pushed back to 2021. Hopefully, the pandemic will have died down by Christmas and studios will feel confident in putting this and others like it on a big screen again. But, without a viable vaccine available in time, and a threat of a second wave, it’s possible that we may have to wait a bit longer for Dune to make it’s big screen debut, if it indeed gets one. All I can say is if the industry needed a big movie to help boost the theatrical market once again, this would indeed be the movie to do it.
BLACK WIDOW (NOVEMBER 6, 2020)
Marvel’s newest blockbuster was supposed to herald the beginning of the Summer 2020 movie season, as Marvel has done over the last decade on the first week of May. However, plans changed quickly, and Marvel had to postpone like everyone else; missing out on that traditional slot that has always served them well. However, unlike most other studios this year, Marvel was actually well positioned to adapt to the delay. Because they plant their flags so far in advance in anticipation for their upcoming releases, all Marvel had to do was have each of their movies take one step backward to the next available slot. As a result, Black Widow, which was supposed to come out May 1 is now coming out on November 6 instead, taking over the release date of their next film, The Eternals, which was pushed back to Marvel’s next available date, February 12. At this point the Marvel brand is so strong that they can make moves like this without hurting their chances at the box office. Black Panther already showed that they can perform just as well in February as any other time of year, so Eternals is still in a good position. What also benefits Marvel is that they delay has allowed audiences to build up more of an appetite for a new Marvel movie, with last July’s Spider-Man: Far From Home coming a full year and a half before Black Widow. That’s good for this new movie, which marks the starting off point for Marvel’s Phase 4 plans. It will be interesting to see where Agent Natasha Romanoff’s long awaited solo film fits within the ongoing MCU storyline, given what we know of her fate from Avengers: Endgame (2019). The movie also looks like a fresh departure from past Marvel movies, taking on a more grounded Jason Bourne-esque style and plot. The inclusion of Black Widow’s “family” of fellow assassins, played by Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour also looks to make this a fun action movie as well. Can Marvel keep the ball rolling into Phase 4? Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see this November.
SOUL (NOVEMBER 20, 2020)
You can always count on Pixar to get movie goers excited about what they have coming up next. Unfortunately for the studio, they suffered a bad hit right at the start of this pandemic when they’re highly anticipated Spring 2020 release Onward suffered at the box office during it’s brief two week run before theaters started closing. It failed to cross the $100 million mark, a first for Pixar, and was rushed quickly onto Disney+ in the hopes that it might help the new streamer gain more subscribers. With the pandemic raging on through the summer, it became clear that Pixar’s second original film of the year, Soul, would not meet it’s June release date and a delay was quickly enacted. Taking the release date from Disney Animation’s Raya and the Last Dragon (now set for Spring 2021), Soul is hoping to get a chance to bring Pixar back strong at the box office. This new film comes from Pixar chief Pete Doctor, who has one of the best track records as a director so far at the studio, having made the likes of Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015). With his fourth film, Doctor is delving into another high concept, which is what makes up a person’s soul. Here, the story revolves around a jazz musician and music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who suddenly finds himself in an ethereal realm after an accident, stuck between the afterlife and the place where souls begin before life. There he meets a soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who refuses to join the realm of the living. It’s the kind of ambitious, multi-layered film that Pixar has built it’s brand around, and my hope is that we will get to see this movie presented beautifully on a big, wide screen. The trailer gives the indication that this movie will be gorgeous to look at, and hopefully those high Pixar standards bear fruit. Let’s just hope that the theatrical experience will be able to give us that chance to witness all that beauty in the best way possible.
NO TIME TO DIE (NOVEMBER 20, 2020)
The very first casualty of the 2020 pandemic, this newest entry of the long running James Bond franchise gave us the first real indication of the severity that this pandemic was going to have on Hollywood’s plans for the year. The movie, marking Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as 007, was originally going to be released in April, an unusual time slot for the franchise. With the delay, it has now moved in a traditional Fall release, which has always been what the Bond franchise has done before, so it seemed a natural move given the circumstances. But it is interesting that when MGM and Sony moved their massive tent-pole to the Fall, the world had not really fully grasped how bad this pandemic was going to get. Sure, we already saw China suffer through the outbreak during the winter, but here in North America, it still seemed remote. The decision to move this film came as a shock, given how close to the release it was. Tickets had already gone on sale (I bought mine, in fact) and were soon refunded. But, as we now know, it was only the first domino to fall. In hindsight, the Bond team did the right thing by postponing the film. Hopefully, they won’t have to do it again. This is another movie that definitely demands a big screen presentation, as most Bond movies are. Considering that Craig is hanging it up as the iconic character after this makes the new movie all the more monumental, and it will help to generate excitement once it’s finally released. Seeing old faces return, as well as new ones coming in for the first time, like Oscar winner Rami Malek’s enigmatic new villain, will be pleasing to many fans of the franchise. Let’s hope that the long wait will be worth it, and that Craig’s Bond goes out with a big bang on the big screen.
WONDER WOMAN 1984 (OCTOBER 2, 2020)
You’ve got to hand it to Warner Brothers; they are committed to the theatrical experience for their big tent-pole films. In addition to Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, they stated that Wonder Woman 1984 would be screened in theaters and they have stuck with that. Whether or not theaters are going to be ready is another question. Tenet is already getting a staggered release in markets across the world, with some theaters in North America getting it for the Labor Day weekend, while others in hot spot areas (which sadly includes California, where I live) will have to wait. Hopefully, when Warner’s next big tent-pole comes out, more theaters will be open to present it. But, October is readily approaching and it’s hard to say if we are going to be ready. Having already passed on two Summer release dates, people are hopeful that Wonder Woman 1984 will be able to stick the landing this fall. The highly anticipated sequel brings back Gal Gadot as the super heroine and the movie looks to deliver on the same blend of high octane action and charming character dynamics that the original 2017 film gave us. Given the double threat of Pedro Pascal’s Max Lord and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah, two of Wonder Woman’s biggest foes from the comics, this looks to be a movie that not only builds on the original, but also takes it to new heights. Hopefully, Warner Brothers and DC’s high expectations are justified with their optimistic release date. I enjoyed the last film very much, and I too have high hopes for the movie. This could indeed be the movie that helps to bring movie theaters back to booming business, but given the dangers involved with the ongoing pandemic, it could prove to be a huge risk as well, and it’s asking a lot of the audience to put their health on the line in order to watch this in a theater. Hopefully, the curve finally flattens before this movie makes it’s debut, but we’ll have to wait and see.
MANK (TBA FALL 2020)
With all this talk of the big tent-pole movies pushed back from the Summer and Spring, we can’t overlook the awards season films that also normally make their way to the silver screen. The only question is, will they make it to the screen this year. The entire rest of the 2020 movie calendar could still be in flux, and a lot of the movies put up for Oscar season might not even make it as scheduled. Given that Academy Awards already decided to push back their deadline for consideration into February, there is less pressure to get these kinds of movies out onto screens before December 31. Most of the Oscar season movies may now be coming out in January or February at the latest. There are, however, a few movies vying for Awards consideration that will be released this year, and they are mostly the ones being made by streamers like Netflix. In fact, Netflix has a few highly anticipated new movies from the likes of Charlie Kaufman, Ron Howard, Aaron Sorkin and maybe even the Coen Brothers if we’re lucky. But, for me, the one that I’m looking most forward to is David Fincher’s new biopic called Mank. The movie tells the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, who co-wrote the film Citizen Kane (1941). The plot will detail the tumultuous history of that legendary film’s making from the point of view of Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and show how the pressures put on him from threats by the Hearst Corporation as well Orson Welles (Tom Burke) taking most of the credit, led to a short lived career for the now celebrated writer. For movie lovers like me, this story is one that will make for a great cinematic experience, especially in Fincher’s hands. We don’t much about the movie other than it’s cast and that it will be in black and white (a first for Fincher). I hope that Netflix does screen this somewhere here in LA like they did for last year’s The Irishman (2019). At least with Netflix behind this one, we know that it will be released without delay. The only question now is when, and hopefully we get that answer soon and with an exciting trailer to go with it.
It will be interesting to see if these release dates do indeed pan out over the next few months. I’m hopeful that we’ve gone through the worst of this pandemic and that movie theaters will be able to screen new releases in a safe manner. That being said, it’s going to be a while before the business will be able to return back to normal. With the digital only releases of Trolls World Tour, Scoob! and now Mulan, a precedent has been set for how studios can circumvent the movie theater industry with a premium On Demand model for release. One hopes that it is temporary for the circumstances, but as of right now, the movie theaters need the studios support more than the other way around. Now of course not every movie is going to benefit from streaming. Disney suffered a loss by dumping the $140 million Artemis Fowl onto Disney+ instead of delaying it for theaters, but let’s face it, that movie was always doomed to fail, even with theaters open. But, movie theaters are still in a desperate place, and a lot of hopes are riding on the movies set for this Fall. Time will only tell what impact the deals the theater industry cut with the major studios, like the controversial one between AMC and Universal, will have on the future of the business. If anything, this Fall season may be the one that makes or breaks the theatrical market forever. Hopefully, the movies that I spotlighted here are big enough of a draw to help people return the movies. I am cautiously optimistic, though I do understand that it will still be a tall order. One thing that does give me hope is that I hear a lot of people lament about missing being in a theater during this time of year. Being stuck in a home has run it’s course for many people, and they are eager to get back outside whenever they can. I can see this whenever I’ve gone to Drive-In theaters here in LA. They are almost always packed, which is a great sign for the theatrical industry. It’s hard to know the future, but if what I’ve seen is any indication, the movie theater industry may not nearly as dead as we thought.