Changes to the release date calendar keep coming, prompting concern from exhibitors who depend on a steady stream of content to remain in operation.
Latest changes come courtesy of Sony, which yesterday announced that the holiday rom-com Happiest Season—about a woman (Kristen Stewart) whose plans to propose to her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis) are complicated by the discovery that said girlfriend has not come out to her parents—will bypass a theatrical release. The film, which was slated to debut in theaters on November 25, will instead make its bow on Hulu on that same date.
Sony Pictures Entertainment and Entertainment One, which co-financed the film, retain distribution rights in Canada and international markets; per an official press release from Sony, “Overseas plans, including potential theatrical releases, will be finalized in the coming weeks.”
If Happiest Season were to screen theatrically in Canada but not in the United States, it would not be an unprecedented move; Paramount release SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run took the same tack earlier this year. In that instance, the film got a theatrical release in Canada and was released on Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) in the United States.
The movement of Happiest Season away from theaters gives the United States three major studio releases in the month of November, all of them from Universal: Let Him Go (Focus Features; November 6), Freaky (November 13), and The Croods: A New Age (November 25). Universal has been in the middle of an ongoing conversation about theatrical exclusivity windows following an agreement with AMC Theatres, announced in July, that would allow the window of exclusivity for Universal and Focus titles to shrink to as little as 17 days.
The November release calendar is further complicated by the fact that Regal, the second-largest cinema operator in the United States, remains largely closed due to a lack of upcoming studio releases. Of the chain’s 500-plus U.S. locations, seven in California remain open and 11 in New York will open this weekend. For all cinemas, the key markets of Los Angeles and New York City remain closed.
Sony has also made changes to its 2021 calendar, moving Ghostbusters: Afterlife back from March 5, 2021 to June 11, 2021. (The second weekend of June saw the release of the first Ghostbusters film in 1984.) As the calendar currently stands, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the only film slated for June 11. Other major releases that month include Vivo, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and an untitled film, all from Sony; Micronauts (Paramount); The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and In the Heights (Warner Bros.); Samaritan (United Artists); and Luca (Disney).
Additionally, Sony has dated a yet-untitled sequel to the 2016 Screen Gems release Don’t Breathe. The horror sequel will be directed by Rodo Sayagues, who co-wrote the script to the first film with director Fede Álvarez.