When it comes to the state of theatrical distribution and delays that are being caused by the pandemic, we are in a better position today than we were roughly six months ago, but uncertainty still plagues the industry. Certain movies are making their way to theaters, where Tom Hanks’ News of the World and the DC Films sequel Wonder Woman 1984 have entertained those who can get to a theater safely. And a vaccine is being distributed, but perhaps not fast enough for major tentpoles like No Time to Die or the Tom Cruise sequel Top Gun: Maverick to hold on to their current release dates.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the anticipated Top Gun: Maverick was one of a handful of titles that were analyzed in a new The Hollywood Reporter piece where the trade tried to figure out which blockbusters would have to shift once again because the vaccine rollout simply wasn’t moving fast enough for large crowds to feel safe heading back to theaters around the world. Top Gun: Maverick currently holds a July 2, 2021 release date -- and wouldn’t that be the ideal movie to act as a July 4 “Return the Theaters” call to action film? But an anonymous studio veteran commented to the trade that the first two quarters of this year would continue to be difficult, saying:
I think everything substantive between now and Top Gun: Maverick in early July will move. It’s a mess.
Everything has moved already, so this reaction is understandable. Studios have been shifting approaches to theatrical release in the opening frame of this year, with Warner Bros. making the biggest waves as it announced its unprecedented plan to put major movies on HBO Max as well as in theaters on the same day. This approach was viewed as a Band-Aid, though, as the industry waited for theater chains to be able to open back up, safely. But that might not be happening fast enough.
Top Gun: Maverick isn’t the only title caught in this squeeze… not by a long shot. Between now and July 2, when the Tom Cruise sequel opens, major studios are eyeballing the theatrical situation and contemplating what to do about Universal’s F9, Marvel’s Black Widow, Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II, and Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife as well as Venom: Let There Be Carnage. The studios desperately want to be back in business by the summer months, and it mighty be a situation where blockbusters play before limited crowds so that social distancing can be practiced. The industry is going to learn how to walk again before it can run, and will learn how to run before Top Gun: Maverick is able to fly.
We expect a lot of these decisions to be made soon. Marketing campaigns for major movies need to begin soon, and I’m certain that Super Bowl ads are being considered for movies that want to hold on to their April or May release dates. We’ll continue to report on the developments, and make sure that you bookmark our 2021 release date calendar, which we will update with new information as we receive it.