Long Range Box Office Forecast: Proposed Changes and Strategies for the 2020 Release Calendar

Photo Credits: Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, Nicola Dove (© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

If you’ve been keeping up with previous updates, you’re aware of numerous rescheduling moves by studios in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, I’m diving into a few of the remaining question marks and potential moves we could still see in the coming weeks in order to make the 2020 (and beyond) calendar more strategically sound for both studios and exhibitors.

The good news is that the industry has shifted the bulk of its most important titles as efforts and plans are underway for a projected mid-summer theatrical reopening, with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet currently planned as the first new wide release on July 17. Everything depends on the timeline of the virus and the world’s ability to continue social distancing while simultaneously reviving and adapting aspects of normal daily life, including going to the movies.

With that caveat, bear in mind that the speculative changes discussed below are based on the status quo as of today. They do not represent any official announcements by studios (unless otherwise noted), and could change on a dime depending on any number of major news developments whether they’re related to productions, the movie industry, or the world at-large.

Also note that the suggestions below are generally limited to what are perceived as major releases with moderate-to-high box office potential (tentpoles, with a few exceptions). I’m also excluding films that, while still currently on the release schedule, may not finish production in time for their scheduled releases.

The benefit, at least early on, is that even as theaters will be selling tickets at limited capacity to allow for social distancing, those exhibitors will be able to block off a significant number of screens for one movie due to the relative lack of new product. Demand, at least in the first few weeks, should be able to be met even with best healthy practices in play. (For example, don’t be surprised if Tenet takes up nearly every screen of every theater that’s open for business come July 17.)

It may also be wise for studios and exhibitors to allow the market some breathing room by A) not over-crowding the market with too many films at once early on, and B) making sure strong product is being released.

That being said, while it’s possible consumers could return to theaters in waves as social comfort levels improve over time, that staggered wave may partly be offset by those eager to get back out as soon as possible. There’s simply no way to be sure at this point in time.

Below this calendar, you can find additional notes relating to certain exclusions and suggested moves.

A Proposed 2020 Release Calendar for Key Releases

Release Date Title Distributor
7/17/2020 Tenet Warner Bros.
7/24/2020 Mulan Disney
8/7/2020 The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run Paramount
8/14/2020 The One and Only Ivan Disney
8/14/2020 Wonder Woman 1984 Warner Bros.
8/21/2020 Antebellum Lionsgate
8/21/2020 Bill & Ted Face the Music United Artists Releasing
8/28/2020 none  
9/4/2020 A Quiet Place Part II Paramount
9/4/2020 The Beatles: Get Back Disney
9/18/2020 The King’s Man 20th Century Studios
9/25/2020 Candyman (2020) Universal
10/2/2020 Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse Paramount
10/9/2020 Death on the Nile (2020) 20th Century Studios
10/9/2020 The Witches (2020) Warner Bros.
10/16/2020 Halloween Kills Universal
10/23/2020 Connected Sony / Columbia
10/30/2020 Greyhound Sony / Columbia
11/6/2020 Black Widow Disney / Marvel Studios
11/13/2020 The Trial of the Chicago 7 Paramount
11/20/2020 The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Warner Bros. / New Line
11/20/2020 Soul Disney / Pixar
11/25/2020 No Time to Die MGM
12/4/2020 none  
12/11/2020 Free Guy 20th Century Studios
12/11/2020 Clifford the Big Red Dog Paramount
12/18/2020 Top Gun: Maverick Paramount
12/23/2020 The Croods 2 Universal
12/23/2020 West Side Story (2020) 20th Century Studios
12/25/2020 News of the World Universal

Notes:

  • This calendar presumes certain films like Bios, Godzilla vs. Kong, Coming 2 America, and others will not finish production in time for their currently scheduled releases. It’s entirely possible these and similar films not included above could still find optimal release dates before the end of 2020.

  • It may be wise to limit new releases at only one or two per week (with very few exceptions) until September in order to prevent over-crowding the market, cutting into available screens for films. Many, if not all, of these films could open to lower box office figures than we’re used to seeing in normal times, but the upside is that legs and staying power may prove to be longer than usual.

  • Family-driven and three-to-four quadrant films are likely to be the most appealing during the theatrical recovery process. Conversely, films catering to adults over the age of 50 and senior citizens should generally hold off on releases until at least the fall season since those consumers are most likely to remain cautious in going back out to public settings.

  • The weekend before Labor Day could remain free of new releases to allow current releases further opportunity to build business leading into the release of A Quiet Place Part II over the holiday frame in September, which had been tracking very well prior to its delay from a March release.

  • The Beatles: Get Back could benefit from a one-week delay to September 11 so as to prevent competition for screens and/or adult moviegoers with A Quiet Place Part II the weekend before.

  • October 30 is currently release-free. This would be a solid spot for Tom Hanks’ Greyhound (just under two weeks before Veterans Day).

  • The Conjuring 3 should not open one week after A Quiet Place Part II due to direct competition for horror fans. If production finishes in time, it could be a fair counter-programmer on the weekend of Soul‘s release (November 20) leading into Thanksgiving week, with only minimal competition for its target female audience leading into December.

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 could benefit from an award season launch as an adult-driven option between numerous blockbusters in November and December, although a staggered release in October (as currently planned) may still be viable.

  • Snake Eyes should be delayed, likely until 2021, given the G.I. Joe franchise’s high risk (particularly opening ahead of Black Widow) and its need of a fresh start with minimal competition.

  • Clifford the Big Red Dog is disadvantaged currently in having to release near Disney / Pixar’s Soul. A mid-December opening could be more lucrative leading into the heart of holiday season.

  • Even if production were to finish on time, opening Godzilla vs. Kong between Black Widow and No Time to Die is ill-advised given the performance of last year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. A 2021 release would be more economically sound.

  • Dune is a massive production with significant franchise potential, but it has minimal familiarity among general audiences compared to surrounding competition. Opening between No Time to Die and Top Gun: Maverick, both of which were already poised for blockbuster runs before the delays from earlier 2020 releases, would be a major risk given the target audience crossover. A delay to 2021 seems inevitable under the current circumstances.

  • Thus, Top Gun: Maverick would benefit from a move up by five days to open on Friday, December 18. This is the same calendar alignment previously taken advantage of by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 to overwhelmingly record fashion. Maverick won’t post Star Wars-level numbers, but the nostalgia play and near-three consecutive weeks of strong daily play would offer a huge boost to the presumed global blockbuster.

Author’s Note: As is the case these days, just hours after this article was published, a flurry of more release date changes affecting movies initially mentioned in this report were announced by Lionsgate. Included was the one-year delay of Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar from July 31, 2020 to July 16, 2021.

Additionally, Spiral was re-set for a May 21, 2021 release, while American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story has moved from December 18, 2020 to December 10, 2021.

Lastly, following our expectation of a delay, The Hitman’s Bodyguard 2 has officially moved from August 28, 2020 to August 20, 2021.