With Warner Bros sharing its entire 2021 slate with its streaming service, questions arise again over the release plans for No Time To Die.
You can fully expect the ramifications of Warner Bros’ announcement last week that it’s sending its entirely 2021 release slate to streaming alongside a cinema release to have ripples for years to come.
This – forgive the cliché – feels like a game-changing moment for blockbuster cinema, as movies such as The Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4 and Dune are going to be viewable at home at the same time they’re in cinemas. In the US at least: there’s more on it all, and how it affects the UK, right here.
Expect the onus to shift in pretty fast measure to move onto other studios then, although some have already made their position clear. Paramount has been selling much of its slate to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, whilst delaying its major tentpoles with a view to still releasing Top Gun: Maverick and its Mission: Impossible sequels on the big screen first.
Universal has cut a deal that reduces the theatrical window to less than a month, whilst Sony’s plans remain uncertain, other than a slight delay to some of its slate. Disney has thrown its eggs meanwhile into its Disney+ basket, save for a few leftover releases from its 20th Century Fox purchase.
Which all means now that it’s increasingly looking like the first big blockbuster to test the waters again in 2021 will be the James Bond movie No Time To Die. And there’s little evidence that’s the kind of situation the team behind Bond want to be in. Again.
The story so far is well known. The movie was the first major blockbuster to delay its release as Coronavirus spread. It moved from spring 2020 to November 2020.
Since then, it’s shunted again to April 2021. And it’s increasingly looking like there’s a stick or twist moment coming up. Will the audience be there in numbers by April?
It’s the latest uncertainty in a year unlike any other.
There are a couple of factors that sit this outside of the kind of decision Warner Bros has just made.
Firstly, there’s more than one studio involved in No Time To Die. In the US, the film will be released by MGM/United Artists Releasing, whilst outside of America it’s a Universal release.
MGM/United Artists and Universal have different approaches thus far (the former released Bill & Ted Face The Music in the US as a day and date cinema and on demand release in America), and so they need to agree a uniform approach. That agreement also has to satisfy the James Bond overlords, Eon Productions too.
But also, there’s an arguably even bigger discussion: because much like Tenet last summer, No Time To Die is seen as absolutely a cinema film.
Appreciating how much the plates have shifted, the idea of Bond debuting anywhere but the big screen still feels alien. This is, we’re told, a movie to be devoured on the big screen. It’s also arguably the biggest upcoming release on the calendar over the next 12 months, bring with it the end of an era for the 007 franchise given that Daniel Craig will be hanging up his tuxedo and returning his Walther PPK once the movie is done.
In fact, the film is complete. Moreover, twice thus far advertising campaigns have been launched to build up to the release of No Time To Die, with each believed to have cost at least eight figures. We’re coming up to the point where MGM/United Artists, Universal and Eon have to decide whether to go again.
It’s generally a three month build up at least to get things going on such a sizeable promotional campaign, and as such, a decision’s got to be made in January as to whether to go for that April 2021 release. Also, how many more trailers can they cut from the admittedly very long movie (this one’s going to clock in at over 160 minutes).
Already, there’s doubt as to whether April will see the film’s debut. A Variety report in the aftermath of Warner Bros’ bombshell argued that “the movie’s financial backers are wary of being the first blockbuster out of the gate because its core audience skews older, a demographic that’s been more reluctant to go to the movies during the pandemic”. It’s a notable point, and the article – that you can read here – suggests the possibility of a third delay to the movie.
In the case of No Time To Die, it’s a narrow buffet of options its backers and makers have to choose from. From top to bottom, this feels like a cinema release, and it’s hard to see the movie going direct to a premium video on demand service anywhere in the world (rumours earlier this year that discussions had been had with Apple surfaced, but Eon has apparently remained adamant that No Time To Die is getting a theatrical release).
Warner Bros is at least trying to boost its HBO Max service in America with its dual cinema/streaming strategy. United Artists/MGM doesn’t own such a service, and whilst Universal does – Peacock – that only operates in America. Where Universal doesn’t have the Bond rights.
To give an idea of just how fractured 007 rights tend to be, over a dozen of the movies are currently streaming for free on YouTube in the US, albeit with adverts. But also, they’re geolocked, so us here in the UK can’t see them that way.
Thus, if this is to be a big cinema release – and remember, it was the delay of Bond that led to Cineworld shutting all of its cinemas in the UK until next year – we’re back to the question of whether anyone with any confidence say that April will be a clear time to launch the film?
Away from movies, huge vaccination efforts begin across the world in earnest this week, but even if they went at great speed, the most optimistic are suggesting that ‘normal life’ will only start to get going come next April.
Whether that goes hand in hand with audience confidence in returning to cinemas is one of the many unknowns here.
In terms of a window to release at $200m+ movie that in ordinary times would come with box office expectations around the $1bn mark, it’s undoubtedly a gamble (Tenet’s gross of around $360m worldwide is around half what would have been expected there, for instance).
What’s been impressive is just how well the Bond team have read the situation, arguably better than some national governments. Each time it’s delayed No Time To Die, its decision has been hard to argue with. In the UK and US, two huge markets for the film, cinemas turned out to be very restricted in both April 2020 and November 2020, when the film was supposed to arrive. The two postponements thus far have arguably been vindicated.
But now what? The temperature of cinema may well be tested beforehand should The King’s Man hold its February release date (and don’t underestimate the pulling power of Peter Rabbit 2 either, due around the same time). But by then, a decision will need to have been made over Bond’s cinema future anyway.
Eon remains mum, and cinemas in the UK at least are at least partially open at the moment (although in the US, major markets are still pretty much shut down). Sooner or later, No Time To Die will appear before an audience, and that’s pretty much guaranteed to be in 2021.
But when? That April release date is holding again for the moment, although we’ve been down this road before. For beleaguered exhibitors, this now feels like the most important film on the calendar bar none. For the audience? Well, we just want to see it.
It’s your move, Mr Bond. Whatever’s decided is going to have ramifications one way or another. Expect a decision to be made early next year…
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