I don’t know about you, but I spent the first couple of months of 2020 eagerly awaiting the release of Disney’s Mulan. The film – a remake of the 1998 animated classic – was advertised as being released on March 27 2020, but when that day finally came around, countries were locking down and cinemas were a no-go. Now, months later, there’s still no news about when viewers will get the chance to see the film they’ve waited months, and even years, for – and it’s not the only one. Entertainment industries are feeling the effects of nationwide lockdowns and the resultant suspension of production and releases. But how has this affected those who work in the industry, and when will we finally get to see the many movies postponed by COVID-19?
The value of the industry
The film industry industry doesn’t come across as something most of us need in order to survive, despite the entertainment value it provides. However, the industry itself is a major value creator. Not to mention the jobs it creates for everyday folk. Hollywood alone supports 2 million jobs and 400 000 American businesses. The $49 billion payout to those businesses makes it a key driver of the US economy. Across the ocean, the British film and television industry contributes £20.8 billion to their economy, and Chinese and Indian counterparts and growing to be just as valuable. It becomes clear, when looking at the figures, that suspending the film industry would have a massive impact on economies around the world – and that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
When the virus was first identified in China, the Chinese film industry was hit almost immediately. The nation was forced to close over 70 000 movie theatres over the Chinese New Year – a holiday in which box office totalled $360 million in its first weekend last year. in 2020, the same weekend saw box office gross only about $2 million.
As the virus made its way across the world, Hollywood saw a similar trend. As people became less comfortable being in crowded public spaces, attendance at film festivals and movie theatres began to dwindle. Movie releases were delayed or completely cancelled. Production of new films and television series were suspended.
Despite the fact that globally attendance in movie theatres has been declining, in China audiences grew over 860% from 2009-2019. The lack of audiences filling cinema seats alone, then, has an impact that is heavily felt on their growing industry.
Cinematographer and camera operator, Meekaaeel Adam, told Essential Millennial that in South Africa, even when there isn’t a pandemic affecting the lucrativeness of the industry, there isn’t much support for the industry. As a result there’s been a strong push for a union since COVID-19 hit.
“All agree that there isn’t much support for the creative arts in general,” Adam says. “So much so that the sports minister is the same minister for arts and culture. I’ll leave you to assume which industry has more support.”
“In terms of work,” he adds, “I think there’s a clear line being drawn. All the big jobs are still being created, but what has fallen away is the bread and butter of the industry, the jobs that most creatives don’t talk about.The reduction in these smaller, below the line jobs have a greater impact in terms of job loss or unemployment. Greater than most of us would assume.”
Adam concludes that if one wants to see the already visible impact on the industry, one needs only look at the recent advertisements on Youtube that have been made with stock footage or cellphone footage. The same can even be seen in recently released music videos by popular artists.
“That will also give you a scaled idea of what the industry is dealing with right now”
What’s been postponed?
Despite the fact that countries are slowly moving back into production, the lack of audience attendance in theatres has big players in the industry hesitant to release their biggest titles.
Warner Bros has shifted back a number of eagerly anticipated releases, including The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson (now scheduled for October 2021), The Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark (delayed from Sept. 25 to March 12, 2021), and King Richard – a biopic starring Will Smith as Richard Williams, father of Serena and Venus Williams ( delayed from Nov. 25 to Nov. 19, 2021). Two DC films, The Flash and Shazam! 2, both originally scheduled for release in 2022, are both being pushed back a couple of months.
On July 20th, the studio announced that Christopher Nolan’s upcoming sci-fi thriller, Tenet, would be postponed indefinitely and that The Conjuring 3 has been postponed to June 4, 2021.
Pixar’s latest release, Soul, is set for release in November 2020, pushed back from June, while Disney’s untitled Indiana Jones film moved from July 9, 2021, to July 29, 2022. Much to my own dismay, Disney’s Mulan remains postponed indefinitely.
As for the Marvel Comics Universe, Black Widow is scheduled for November 6, 2020, while Shang-Chi shifted to May 7, 2021. Originally, Doctor Strange 2 was set to release on that date; it’s now set to open November 5, 2021. This displaces Thor: Love and Thunder until February 28, 2022. Black Panther 2 remains set for May 6, 2022, and Captain Marvel 2 was pushed back from July 22 to July 8, 2022.
These are just a handful of releases that have been affected, and this list doesn’t even touch upon the myriad Chinese and European releases that were placed on hold. Film festivals – even the most prestigious festivals, like Cannes – have also been grappling with solutions to the COVID-19 crisis.
The future of the industry
It’s clear that the way the industry has been operating until now is in fact not very sustainable. Many of the changes that are being made on account of COVID-19 may come to shape the industry going forwards. In other words, we may be on the cusp of an entertainment revolution.
According to World Economic Forum, theatres will be hardest hit as consumers continue to turn to streaming services. These companies – of which Netflix, Apple and Disney are all a part – bring releases directly to consumers and skip the middle man. The trend seems unlikely to change when cinemas reopen.
Stefan Hall and Silvia Pasquini write that some are warning of a consolidation among theatre operators, which may deliver economies of scale for theatre operators, but it also strengthens the biggest movie studios. They write that with fewer films available, blockbuster franchises take an expanding share of box office revenue. That has an effect on production.
They write that “COVID-19 has made movie financing more risky, due to increased health security and insurance costs. Independent studios may find it harder to raise capital. This could have the unintended consequence of reducing diversity of movie content – a fear developing since Disney bought Marvel in 2009“.
While the industry is undoubtedly facing a number of challenges, there’s also room for opportunity. Creatives now have the chance to find solutions to problems which may completely reshape entertainment. The New York Times quotes JJ Abrams: “For a long time, people have been saying the business is changing, but that’s undeniable now. It’s on.”
For now, we’ll just have to be patient as the inevitable changes in the industry unfold. Perhaps the extra wait will make the movies feel that much more satisfying when we do get to see them. In the mean time, check out our reviews section for some ideas on what to watch while you wait.