Disney has postponed the release of fall blockbusters such as Marvel’s “Black Widow,” Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Death on the Nile” by several months. The results are bad news for the exhibition industry, which is facing fierce headwinds after closing for months due to coronavirus.
The studio has kept the late November release date of Pixar’s “Soul,” surprising some in the industry who had expected the animated family film to either move to a later perch or get released on Disney Plus. The moves set off a cascade of distribution shifts that will upend the theatrical landscape for months. Other Marvel releases, such as “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Eternals” will all debut deeper into 2021. Disney’s release date shifts all but guarantee that box office revenues this year will reach a nadir — analysts have already projected that domestic grosses would decline between 70% to 80% due to the pandemic.
“Black Widow,” starring Scarlett Johansson, was set to debut on Nov. 6, a date that started to look increasingly unlikely as movie theaters on the coasts remained closed. Variety previously reported that the studio was eyeing a new time to unveil the film on the big screen after the disappointing performance of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in the U.S. and the delay of “Wonder Woman 1984.” “Black Widow” will now open on May 7, 2021.
“Death on the Nile” — a follow-up to 2017’s box office hit “Murder on the Orient Express” — will bow on Dec. 18, 2020, vacating its original Oct. 23 premiere. “Death on the Nile,” a murder mystery based on Agatha Christie’s novel, appeals to an older moviegoers, a demographic that might be hesitant to return to indoor spaces during the pandemic.
“West Side Story,” which marks Spielberg’s first foray into musicals, was expected to be a key Academy Awards contender. An awards career may still be in its future, but not at this year’s Oscars. “West Side Story” will launch a year later than expected, on Dec. 10, 2021 instead of Dec. 18, 2020.
Due to the interconnected nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Widow’s” move shifted back other installments in the superhero franchise. “Eternals,” a comic book adventure about a super-powered alien race, will debut on Nov. 5, 2021. It was previously dated for Feb. 12, 2021. Chloé Zhao directed the film, which stars Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani. Nanjiani endorsed the move on Twitter.
Eternals delayed to Nov 5, 2021. Marvel made the right & responsible decision. There’s a pandemic. Nothing is more important than health & lives. I can’t tell ppl to go to a movie theater until I feel safe going to one.
Take care of yourselves. I promise it’ll be worth the wait!
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) September 23, 2020
And “Shang-Chi,” Marvel’s first film with an Asian lead, has moved from May 7, 2021 to July 9, 2021. Destin Daniel Cretton will direct a cast that includes Simu Liu as the titular martial arts hero.
Meanwhile, “Deep Water,” Adrian Lyne’s thriller with Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, will no longer open on Nov. 13, 2020. It will instead debut on Aug. 13, 2021.
Two films will actually bow earlier in the schedule. “The Empty Man,” a horror film with James Badge Dale, will be released on Oct. 23, 2020 instead of on Dec. 4, 2020. “The King’s Man,” previously dated on Feb. 26, 2021, will move ahead two weeks to Feb. 12. However, the latest entry in the spy franchise was initially intended to launch this month.
A number of movies have been postponed following the release of “Tenet,” including Universal’s horror thriller “Candyman” into 2021 and STX’s disaster film “Greenland” with Gerard Butler. Part of the reason that studios are reluctant to release major films is because there’s no sense of when New York and Los Angeles, the two biggest moviegoing markets in the U.S., will be able to open theaters. Cinemas in other parts of the country that have been able to resume operation haven’t seen huge business.
Nearly 70% of movie theaters in North America resumed operations in recent weeks, with many timing their reopenings to the release of “Tenet.” Now, exhibitors face the potential of months without new content to offer audiences.
More from Variety
Best of Variety
Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.