The US studios and independents have booked more than two dozen films for the US summer season, starting with the launch of Disney/Pixar’s Soul on June 19.
While that date may be overly ambitious in view of the country’s soaring COVID-19 infection and death rates, Australian exhibitors and distributors see that as a positive sign for the revival of the theatrical business here and globally.
“The date moves have been very interesting to watch – we can only hope for a late June or July re-opening as well,” Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell tells IF.
“I think we have to assume cinemas will be closed for six months at this stage, but hope it will end sooner. Even then, we will likely be subject to social distancing requirements and enhanced hygiene requirements; we might need the JobKeeper subsidies for casuals just to be able to pay for the extra cleaning.”
Cinema Nova CEO Kristian Connelly tells IF: “The updated dating information coming out of the US reinforces the importance of theatrical for major studio product.
“While the crisis is undoubtedly the most damaging disruption experienced by exhibition in my lifetime, that we are not seeing a wholesale abandonment of theatrical by studios is a considerable indicator of the importance of theatrical to the life cycle of a feature.
“Further, while audiences are now spending their spare time trawling streaming services, it’s possible that they will better recognise the differences between a majority of features found exclusively on non-studio streamers and the more selective and high-end releases found in both art houses and multiplexes.
“The local picture is clear to no-one but, noting that Australian government measures are showing positive signs that infections are on the decline, it’s possible that the Australian theatrical industry may restart sooner than other Western markets.”
Connelly believes Australian films may benefit if they can open mid-year before some of the bigger Hollywood titles arrive and that independent distributors may be able to respond quickly because they are often not bound by international release dates.
Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace GM Alex Temesvari is bullish, opining: “Overall, I believe the second half of this year is going to be one of the best that cinemas have ever seen as there will be so much pent-up demand for sharing a collective experience and also watching these high profile releases that have been delayed.
“Whether cinemas are able to re-open in July with some restrictions in place or a little later in the year remains to be seen but as long as the new product is there, the audience will be too. We just can’t underestimate how starved people will be for social interaction and entertainment out of the house after a 90-day lock down.”
Independent Cinemas Australia president Scott Seddon expresses concern that people who have become accustomed to physical distancing may not feel safe to congregate again in cinemas.
Seddon points to China, where 500 screens re-opened a couple of weeks ago but were then ordered to close after few tickets were sold and more COVID-19 cases were reported.
“For many people in China the cinema was not a safe place,” he says. “That’s something we’re going to have to look at.”
He wonders whether exhibitors should offer patrons disposable face masks for a fee, set maximum occupancy levels and stagger seating.
Jamie Foxx leads the cast of Soul, marking the first time a black character has been at the centre of a Pixar movie. The voice cast also includes Tina Fey, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad and Quest Love.
Directed by two-time Oscar winner Pete Docter, the story takes place between New York City and The Great Before, a fantastical place where people discover their our unique personalities.
Booked on the same date is Deon Taylor’s psychological thriller Fatale (Lionsgate), the saga of married man who finds himself living a nightmare as he is morally manipulated by a mysterious woman with whom he had a wild one-night stand, starring Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, and Tyrin Turner.
Dated for July 17, Christopher Nolan’s international espionage/ time travel thriller Tenet (Warner Bros) stars John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Originally due to open on March 27, Mulan, the live-action reboot of the 1998 Disney animated classic directed by Niki Caro, is scheduled for July 24.
The August/September line-up includes Empty Man (Disney), Infinite (Paramount), Wonder Woman 1984 (WB), The One and Only Ivan (Disney), Nobody (Universal), Hitman’s Bodyguard Part 2 (Lionsgate), The Beatles: Get Back (Disney), Monster Hunter (Sony) and A Quiet Place Part II (Paramount).
Dell says the exhibition and distribution industry will need to carefully plan the re-opening phase and preliminary discussions are already taking place.
“We will need to think innovatively about how we entice people back to the cinemas; older demographics will be the most reluctant but I would expect families and young adults to be the most enthusiastic after being cooped up for months,” he says.
“The new and exciting content we have will be a major drawcard, especially as people will have exhausted anything half-decent on streaming services.”
He suggests a series of enticements including special ticket price and film hire deals, festivals of older movies such as Harry Potter, and re-issuing on lower terms movies whose runs were cut short when cinemas closed.
He adds: “I am confident, after talking to many of our distribution partners in the last couple of weeks, that we will find a way together to reintroduce the public to the magic of movies on the big screen.”
Seddon suggests it may be necessary to seek the ACCC’s approval for bodies representing the major and independent distributors and exhibitors to meet and ensure a coordinated approach to what he terms “relaunching the whole industry.”