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When the first films started to see theatrical delays due to hectic current events, we began to wonder just how far the dominoes would fall. We're still not entirely sure we've reached the end of it, but at the moment, every major movie release planned until about mid-July has been pushed back to later in 2020, if not further. And some, like Artemis Fowl, now won't be released in theaters at all.
Disney decided that rather than release Artemis Fowl in theaters in May, it would hit Disney+ in June. While this is great news for the movie itself, as we'll get to see it sooner than we otherwise would, there's a downside as well. If you're one of those people who would like to see Disney release more than Marvel and Star Wars movies on the big screen, we just lost one of the few films that was going to be an exception to that rule. If there was any chance of Artemis Fowl becoming a new theatrical franchise, that's pretty much dead.
2019 was a massive box office year for Disney, but Disney reached that point by playing it very safe. We had Marvel movies, including the end of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We had the final episode of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga. Additionally, there were no less than three Disney live-action remakes of animated films, plus Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, a sequel to one of the previous live action remakes. Oh, and then we had sequels to popular Disney and Pixar animated films.
There wasn't anything on the slate that we could even charitably call a risk. Sure, not every movie on the list was a worldwide box office smash, but the lowest performing movie on the list, Dumbo, still made $350 million globally.
Artemis Fowl Wasn't A Guaranteed Hit, And That's A Good Thing
2020 was never going to be as big a year for Disney as 2019 was, even if things had gone according to schedule. Still, there were a few movies that were at least interesting experiments, and one of them was Artemis Fowl. Sure, the film is based on a book series which wasn't unpopular, but Artemis Fowl was never Harry Potter. The first book in the series is nearly 20 years old, meaning the audience that grew up reading the books is largely outside of the audience that movies like this are generally marketed towards.
It also doesn't have a lot of big stars. The lead actor is basically unknown, and while Josh Gad and Judi Dench are great, they're not movie stars that tend to draw in an audience. This is why Jungle Cruise, which is still something of a risk because movies based on theme park rides that aren't called Pirates of the Caribbean have had a historically tough time, is still in a better position, because it has Dwayne Johnson. Even if movies based on theme park rides don't always draw in an audience, movies starring The Rock generally do.
But that's why Artemis Fowl was an interesting movie. It wasn't a guaranteed smash hit, but it was being given a prime Memorial Day Weekend release date in between a Marvel movie and the newest Pixar film. While that release date had no choice to be lost, the movie still could have been given a theatrical release at some point. Instead, Artemis Fowl is, thus far, the only Disney movie set for theatrical release that's going straight to Disney+.
It's perhaps understandable that Disney is feeling a bit risk averse right now. There are only going to be so many release dates left on the calendar once theaters open, and Disney will want want to do the best they can with them. Which is to say, make the most money with them. That's how you make Wall Street happy. But Artemis Fowl was already pushed back from a 2019 release date into 2020, and so it wouldn't have been that terrible to push it into 2021 if necessary to give it a release date. That's what Disney did with Jungle Cruise, which will have to wait another year, but will still come out eventually.
If Artemis Fowl Does Well, That's Good News For Disney+, But Not The Big Screen
I don't know if Artemis Fowl is a great movie or not. I don't know even if it's a good one, but if it is a good film, if not outright popular and successful, it's not going to create sequels that get theatrical release dates. It will spur sequels that go straight to Disney+, just like what happened with Artemis Fowl.
Meanwhile, movies like Mulan and Black Widow are going to do exactly what we all expect them to do at the box office. They will be successes, even if we end up having to slightly re-calibrate the definition of success following self-isolation, and it's simply going to reinforce the idea that Disney should play it safe and continue to only provide the sequels that the studio already thinks is all we want.
Maybe Artemis Fowl would have bombed at the box office, and if that had happened, the end result would have been the same as what we're getting now. But if it had done well it not only would have created a new franchise, which is still great news for Disney's bottom line, it would have shown that a movie that wasn't a guaranteed smash could find an audience. This could have given others the inspiration to try their own "risky" venture. They wouldn't all get the green light, and not all those that did move forward would be instant hits, but some likely would be, and we'd be richer for having those stories in the world.
I love Marvel and Star Wars movies as much as the next guy, and I always look forward to the next movie in those series, but I also look forward to movies like Artemis Fowl just because I don't know what to expect. It's wonderful to be pleasantly surprised by a movie you didn't know you were going to love. That still might happen when Artemis Fowl hits Disney+ in June, but it's just not going to feel quite the same as it would have had I been inside a theater ,and it means the odds of being surprised like in the future by a Disney movie are only going to go down.
Keep checking back with CinemaBlend for more Artemis Fowl updates, as well as news concerning Disney movies either hitting theaters or going straight to Disney+.