‘Dune’ moves to 2021, ‘The Batman’ to ’22 as theater chains continue to reel

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The 2020 theatrical release calendar is getting even slimmer in the wake of the announcement that Regal cinemas are temporarily closing, although AMC, North America’s largest theater chain, says it will remain open.

Warner Bros. said late Monday that its sci-fi pic “Dune” will now open in October 2021, instead of this December. The studio also pushed back “The Batman” to March 2022 and moved up its “Matrix” sequel to Dec. 2021.

AMC Entertainment reiterated its commitment to stay open and cited a slew of upcoming new releases that it will be playing, including this weekend’s new films “The War With Grandpa,” with Robert De Niro, and “Yellow Rose.” Roughly 80% of its U.S. locations are currently open.

With the recent exit of the next James Bond film, that leaves a mere handful of big films set to still open in 2020: Pixar’s “Soul,” on Nov. 20, Universal’s “The Croods: A New Age,” on Nov. 25, Disney’s “Death on the Nile,” on Dec. 18 and Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman 1984,” at Christmas. It’s an extra hit to the ailing theatrical industry, which endured six months of closures and has had a difficult time restarting business during the pandemic with key markets like New York still closed and an ever-changing release calendar.

Business has been so shaky that on Monday Cineworld Group Plc said it would temporarily close its 536 Regal cinema locations in the U.S. and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the U.K. on Thursday. And last week leading groups representing movie theaters, movie studios and directors issued a dire plea to Congress for financial help for cinemas. They said nearly 70% of small and mid-size theaters could face bankruptcy or closure without assistance.

AMC CEO Adam Aron said in a statement that the company’s agreement with Universal Pictures to shorten the theatrical window, “puts AMC in a position where we can open our theatres when others may feel the need to close.”

AMC, Aron said, will share in home video on demand revenues with Universal.

But even with new releases on the calendar for the remainder of the year, including high-profile independent and awards contenders like “ Nomadland ” and Regina King’s “One Night in Miami,” studios have made it clear that they are skittish about releasing their most expensive properties in such a muted North American box office landscape.

Warner Bros. helped provide an early test case with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” The film has grossed over $307 million globally, but only $45 million of that has come from North America, which is the world’s biggest box office market.

And although there are new films every weekend, back catalog films are regularly claiming spots in the top 10. Just this weekend the 27-year-old “Hocus Pocus” claimed the No. 2 spot and the 40-year-old Star Wars film “The Empire Strikes Back” landed at No. 6.

Since “Tenet,” many studios have pushed at least one big film out of 2020, including “Black Widow,” “No Time to Die” and “West Side Story.” Other films vacated earlier, like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “F9.” And some studios have experimented by pivoting to video-on-demand releases, like Disney did with its live-action “Mulan.”

The shifting calendar has a domino effect on future releases too. When Warner Bros. moved “Dune” to Oct. 1, 2021, it took “The Batman” release date, pushing that film to March 2022.

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