And the Cinematic Shuffling Continues

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The coronavirus is still out there, of course. But for many of us, life is returning to some semblance of normalcy. Restaurants are opening again. Businesses are welcoming back workers. Even movie theaters are thinking about how they’re going to serve their returning movie-hungry patrons.

But will those patrons have anything to watch? That remains to be seen. Because even while the AMC Theater chain announced it’ll be opening up this July, many of the films that might’ve brought in customers are still being pushed later into the year.

This weekend, Warner Bros. announced a slew of changes to its planned release schedule. For instance, Tenet, set to be this strange year’s first real potential blockbuster, has now been rescheduled for release July 31, not July 17 as originally planned. Wonder Woman 1984 has been delayed for the fourth time: She’ll be swinging her lasso of truth Oct. 2, rather than Aug. 14. Indeed, Warner Bros. has delayed the release of seven of its upcoming movies: Godzilla vs. Kong, Tom & Jerry and Roald Dahl’s The Witches were all originally set to land sometime in 2020. Now we won’t see them until 2021. And all those delays create a domino effect: The fourth Matrix movie (called, fittingly, The Matrix 4) won’t be seen until 2022.

Forbes’ Scott Mendelson says that all that shuffling means that Warner Bros. won’t have a single tentpole next summer. (Though, in truth, Godzilla vs. Kong’s May release comes pretty close.)

That means that Disney’s Mulan, set to open July 24, is (for now) the movie that just might jumpstart theaters again.

But here’s the thing: Big-budget blockbuster wannabes depend on big opening weekends to turn a profit. But will moviegoers feel comfortable returning to theaters in a few weeks? And with social distancing guidelines possibly/likely to still be in place in late July, will theaters be able to sell enough tickets to power a bona fide blockbuster, even if the demand is there?

Every major studio is pondering these difficult questions, which explains why so many have pushed movie release dates far into the future (Minions: The Rise of Gru, for instance, leapfrogged almost a full year from its planned release date—from July 3 of this year to July 2 of 2021) or pushed them straight to video. Sure, Artemis Fowl—released directly to Disney+ this weekend—didn’t reap the same box-office bonanza it would’ve during a normal summer movie season. But in these uncertain days, studios are taking what they can get … even if, technically, what they can get is just a few more subscribers to a streaming service.

But even as lots of studios are moving their movie release dates into the future, one big flick, James Bond’s No Time to Die, inched just a wee bit closer to release. After Godzilla vs. Kong moved out of its planned Nov. 21 slot, MGM moved its latest Bond movie from Nov. 25 to Nov. 20.

But even with that move up, it’s clear that the movie industry remains shaken, not stirred.