There were a few items that were not influenced by the viral scourge – but not many.
While Hollywood was already encountering some significant shifts throughout the industry as 2020 began, very quickly the coronavirus erupted and the ensuing social impact led to seismic activity throughout the entertainment complex. As it stands no one is still sure what will end up shaking out in the coming year. Anything between a return of normalcy to a completely transfigured and unrecognizable entertainment landscape is still on the table.
So yes, while Covid was the big story in most instances, many of the entries point to – in one way or another – what was probably an inevitable conclusion. The pandemic largely hastened a result that would have probably been encountered in a few years. So as it all played out in this dramatic screen explosion fashion, where few walked away in calm and cool style, here are the major motion picture stories of the year.
- Sonic The Hedgehog – In a normal year this would be considered a middling success, and largely overlooked. But considering this was due last year and was pulled from the schedule for digital repairs after fans screamed in horror over the appearance of the titular shrew in the trailers, for this to have any success is notable. After fixing the teeth and legs Paramount found a soft spot in the schedule, and at just under $150 million earned at the box office it stands as the highest-grossing video game adaptation.
- ‘’Parasite’’ Dominates The Oscars – In the pre-Covid days the 2020 Academy Awards was an unpredictable affair. The major awards were shared across numerous titles, but one film dominated the major awards. This South Korean melodrama became a beloved film among the Hollywood elites and it cruised to surprising victories, taking the trophy for screenplay, director, and winning BOTH Best Foreign Film and Best Picture.
- Netflix Becomes Accepted by The Academy – For years now The Oscars, and many in the studio system, have been vocally opposed to Netflix and its bare release strategies to earn nominations. This year, with theater closings limiting how many contenders had a chance at even seeing a release, the Academy has relaxed its strident position and the streaming giant is now a favorite to win. Three of the biggest contenders for Best Picture – ‘’Trial of the Chicago 7’’, ‘’Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’’, and ‘’Mank’’ – are all Netflix properties.
- New Life for ‘’Bad Boys’’ – Coming in 17 years after the last installment – and a quarter of a century since the original was released – Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reteamed for ‘’Bad Boys For Life’’, and shattered expectations. Released in the normally doldrum schedule of January it pulled in over $200 million to become the top grossing film of the year, more than equaled that figure in foreign box office, and stands in the top-20 all time for an R-rated release.
- The Rebirth of the Drive-In – One of the unexpected benefactors of the closure of theaters was the long-suffering American classic film-going experience. With Covid-hysteria surging the drive-in served as an ideal solution; it provided barriers between audience members, all of whom were outdoors, and was naturally predisposed to social distancing. Families desperate to get out of the house and still maintain safety discovered the drive-in theater served as an entertainment loophole to lockdown restrictions.
- Wonder Woman Leaves People Guessing – One of the surefire hits coming into the year ‘’Wonder Woman 1984’’ was a direct casualty of the coronavirus shutdowns. It went through numerous rescheduled openings — with tie-in products sitting in stores in the Spring — before finally getting its release on Christmas day. Warner Brothers also debuted the movie on the new HBO Now streaming service, so its very meager $16 million opening was still considered one of the best post-Covid debuts in theaters. The reaction has not been as wild as the 2017 original, so no one is really confident just how good anything is with this release.
- ‘’Tenet’’ Fails To Open Theaters – Christopher Nolan’s ambition time-bending action epic saw a dismal performance with a truncated theatrical play. The director long fought to have his film seen in theaters, and after numerous delays it did finally open doors in late summer. However the expected ongoing reopening of American states did not materialize, and instead more theaters closed as the movie was in play. Despite a hefty haul overseas of over $300 million, stateside it only took in $58 million, before getting moved to VOD and streaming by fall. The failure of this title caused numerous studios to pull their planned big-ticket releases, which was a death knell for theater owners.
- Star Wars Closes With A Whimper – Though technically a 2019 release, the final chapter in the ‘’Star Wars’’ franchise, ‘’The Rise Of Skywalker’’ – became a depressing down note in the property. While over $500 million is a huge number, and a global take of over $1 billion is enviable, it is a disappointment by franchise standards. This earned about one half of ‘’The Force Awakens’’ five years ago, and it underperformed compared to the reviled ‘’The Last Jedi’’. Roll in the blatant failure of ‘’Solo’’, and this was a dark time for The Force. This is what makes the rampant success of ‘’The Mandalorian’’ all the more impressive, as that streaming series has literally pulled the franchise out of the quagmire, akin to Yoda lifting an X-wing fighter from the swamp.
- Theaters Strike A Sharing Deal With Studios – The closures have hit many in the industry hard. Small studios, distributors, production companies, and countless guilds have been thrown into stasis. Movie theaters in particular have been wounded, and their closures have affected all the industry. As studios began to resort to streaming in an effort to recoup some revenue the exhibitors were getting left in the lurch. After some initial arguments and threats between them and studios, a new deal has been struck where the theaters will be granted a percentage of the revenues from Video On Demand grosses. It is not a solution, but it keeps them on life support. The expected openings next year with numerous blockbuster titles sitting on the shelf is the last gasp hope for survival.
1. The New Priority Placed On Streaming – This really was going to become the focal point of studio products in the coming years, but the effects of the pandemic saw those future expectations become fast-tracked into reality this year. Many studios began shifting unreleasable films onto streaming and VOD services. Warner Brothers then announced that its entire 2021 release schedule would see all films debuting in theaters and on-demand on the same day. Going even beyond that, Disney went through a modified restructuring that included layoffs in certain divisions as it ramped up most of its entertainment focus on streaming and its Disney Plus home service. It is not a question of how things will change, it is how fast will that change take place?