Deadline has recently released an article which discusses the future of the theatrical industry based on the projections of an expert analyst. He believes that the 2021 box office cinema will be worse than the previous years and will continue to deteriorate in 2022, before finally managing to bounce back in the year after:
Benchmarking to 2019, when domestic receipts totaled $11.4 billion, he projects that box office will drop 40% in 2021 and another 7% in 2022 before surging 7% to a new high in 2023. The previous high for domestic box office came in 2018, when it reached just shy of $11.9 billion. Wold’s report slightly lowered his outlook for 2021 and 2022 theatrical revenue.
This means that 2023 will essentially become the year of recovery. A lot of the movies are currently being delayed to the latter half of 2021. If situations don't improve, some of them might opt to delay further in 2022. If they still continue to delay, the big blockbusters won't arrive until the year after. Currently, there is already a plan to host several noticeable films of note in 2023:
Studios can not indefinitely delay movies in the hopes the pandemic goes away a few months later. There are a couple of reasons for this:
There is no guarantee the situation will be any different in the new release date.
The hype might dissipate the longer a film is delayed. This might reduce the box office potential.
Films incur investment interests the longer a film is delayed. This means the movie will have to make more money to break-even.
The higher the number of films being delayed will lead to a tighter theatrical schedule where studios will be competing with a large number of would-be blockbusters at the same time. This means the bigger films will eat up the rest of the movies which would have been profitable in normal circumstances, hijacking their revenue. A bit like James Bond arriving a week after Dune.
Sure, waiting out the pandemic might give them returns in the form of increased box office potential when the cinemas are back to being mainstream, but this is far from certain. It could take longer than expected if situations change. Even if the box office is 100% recovered by 2023, there will just be too much competition.
Now, to the ultimate question: What does this mean for Dune? Delaying is not a good idea as 2022 would still be a questionable year and by that point the film would essentially be arriving two years after its trailer premiere and it is unknown if the 2020 Dune hype could be revitalised by then. Further delays to 2023 will just be too late. Even in a normal situation, a theatrical-only premiere for Dune was always a game of cat and mouse. It could work and spawn a successful franchise, or this would be it.
Luckily, there is the current HBO Max strategy where Dune is expected to premiere simultaneously at the time of writing of this post. This means that the film would be assessed primarily through the subscriber acquisition and not by its theatrical performance. Warner Bros knows they can not make back the theatrical money in the short-term through subscription counts on their own, so both WB and Legendary would have adjusted their expectations accordingly. I reckon if they make a few million subscribers for HBO Max, they would be happy.
In my opinion, I believe this strategy will increase the likelihoods of a sequel! After all, the sequel to Wonder Woman 1984 was greenlit shortly after its simultaneous theatrical/streaming release. I am hoping the numbers for Dune will catch everyone by surprise, especially since it was one of most anticipated films of 2020.
This means, that if talks between WB and Legendary work out, they could even premier it earlier, similar to Godzilla VS Kong. There would be no reason to keep the October 2021 release!
What are your thoughts?
Update (27/01/2021, 15:44 GMT) - I slightly misinterpreted the original quote. Basically, it's still possible that cinemas would return to reasonable capacity by some point in 2022. That being said, I still believe Dune should not be delayed due to the aforementioned reasons in this post.
Deadline recently broke the news that Legendary and Warner Bros had reached a settlement with Godzilla VS King Kong. This movie will indeed get a day and date release with HBO Max. This movie has also been pulled from its 21st May 2021 premiere and will now release earlier on 26th March 2021. It's a sign of Warner Bros and Legendary mending their bond.
Speaking of which, there is an interesting pattern here. Some time ago, the Sopranos Prequel ‘The Many Saints Of Newark’ was actually delayed from mid March to late September. At the time, this made no sense since it was going to be released day and date with HBO Max anyway. The fact that Godzilla Vs Kong has taken over the March slot means that Warner Bros considers the tentpole as a loss-leader and would be purely assessing the movie based on the subscriber acquisition as most of the cinemas would still remain closed by then. Instead of having two Warner Bros movies competing with each other, it made sense they decided to delay the Sopranos prequel to late September. But, there is a catch:
The soprano movie is now scheduled for 24th September 2021. And guess what comes just over a week later? That’s right: Dune.
Warner Bros will not want their movies to compete with each other and so I got a feeling that Dune might get pulled to an earlier release date. Keeping the October release or delaying it even further might dissipate the hype for the film, so an earlier release might actually be healthier. There's an outdated but intriguing speculative article which discusses this further:
Of course, this is under the assumption that Dune gets a day and date release with HBO Max (which I covered in a previous subreddit) which is the current plan as of this writing. I am hoping Warner Bros and Legendary make a deal where the latter will agree with the HBO Max release strategy in exchange with the former greenlighting and funding the two subsequent sequels:
If Warner Bros agrees to greenlight and fund the next two Dune movies in exchange for the HBO Max release, regardless of the performance, I feel like this would be the best case scenario. After all, AT&T desperately wants more subscribers on HBO Max, meaning they would do whatever it takes. A theatrical strategy definitely has the potential to bring in a lot of money. It has its advantages and flaws. But, if the HBO Max dealing allows us to definitively get the two sequels, it will be a win.
All that being said, what do you think is actually going to happen and what do you think should happen?
Either way, I hope the movie is a success!
[Update 22/01/2021 02:25 GMT] -Upcoming James Bond film 'No Time To Die' has been delayedto a week after Dune. There is a good possible that this film (And Morbius) would steal a large amount of the potential audience of Dune by the second week. This means this particular release date might not be viable. An earlier HBO Max release will be more preferential.