2020 has been the definition of disaster for the movie industry. Theaters were closed all over the world for several months and are only reopening very slowly in some places. Productions of new films had to be halted as well, causing delays in when those films will be released, but with no idea when theatrical viewing would be back to normal, who even knows when any of these movies would be viewable anyway? All the movie studios have reacted to this change in the status quo in different ways, but Sony is making one thing clear, it won't be releasing major tentpole movies until major tentpole audiences are available to see them.
Speaking at Bank of America's 2020 Media, Communications, and Entertainment Conference, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra stated (via The Wrap) in no uncertain terms that the studio won't be releasing movies that cost $200 million to make until such time as the theatrical audience is there to properly support the project. He went so far as to call other studios' decisions to do exactly that, a "mistake" saying...
For the most part, nobody has been releasing $200 million movies since March exactly because theaters are either closed or following safety guidelines that severely limit capacity. However, there have been some exceptions. Christopher Nolan's Tenet has been released in theaters, and theaters alone, meaning that the movie is only available in places where theaters are open, limiting what it is capable of from a box office perspective. Disney recently released Mulan as a Premium VOD title on its Disney+ streaming service after already delaying the movie several times in hopes it could open in theaters.
To be sure, Sony made it very clear early on that the studio wasn't going to be taking any chances with its major productions. Back in March when Sony announced its revised release calendar it pushed basically everything of importance off until 2021, including the long-awaited Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Jared Leto's Spider-Man spinoff Morbius.
Sony did make other plans for some films. The Tom Hanks-led World War II drama Greyhound moved from a theatrical release to Apple TV+ and the Kevin Hart drama Fatherhood was, at one point, moved up from a 2021 release to a 2020 release, but neither of those movies was expected to do blockbuster numbers to begin with, and Fatherhood was eventually pushed back into 2021 anyway.
When the dust settles and things are back to something resembling normal, we'll able to figure out which studios made the best choices with their film slate during the pandemic, but at this point, everybody is just trying to do the best they can with what information they have in the given moment. While the lack of theatrical revenue will hurt Sony in the short term, the studio is clearly playing the long game and thinks that in the end, that strategy will prove successful.
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