A rapid increase in cases of the Delta variant is bringing with it a rise in the collective blood pressure of exhibitors, with theatre owners anxious about prospects for the fall movie season. Enthusiasm over weekend’s solid box office performance was quickly dampened by Sony’s dual announcements that it was pushing back the upcoming release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage from September 24th to October 15th and selling Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania to Amazon for $100M, removing the film entirely from the theatrical release schedule. Until last week, HT4 had been scheduled for an October 1st debut in theatres.
These last minute changes to release plans brings back traumatic memories from 2020, at the height of the COVID crisis, when studios would announce regularly that they were postponing a scheduled theatrical release or redirecting a movie to streaming. It seemed that some degree of normalcy had begun to take hold again this spring, with studios once again releasing their premiere movies to theatres, and box office numbers inching back towards historical norms. A Quiet Place Part II, F9: The Fast Saga and Black Widow all grossed over $150M in Domestic ticket sales.
But consumer confidence in going out to the movies has taken a hit over the past six weeks, based on troubling news about the Delta variant. Polling firm NRG (National Research Group) reported that the percentage of consumers who are comfortable in going to the movies now sits at 64%, down from a peak of 81% in early July. Concern is especially high among families with children who are too young to be vaccinated. One studio exec told the Hollywood Reporter that had he known 6 weeks ago what he knows now he would have delayed releasing all his upcoming films until 2022.