The coronavirus outbreak has caused Hollywood studios to delay several high-profile upcoming releases that were scheduled to hit theaters in the coming months. Universal Pictures threw some gas on the fire when they announced that movies like The Invisible Man and Trolls: World Tour will be available to rent at home, marking a game-changer for traditional theatrical windows. But this is not expected to become the new normal (at least not yet) as other delayed movies are expected to still debut theatrically, whenever that may be.
Some, myself included, have speculated that the temporary closure of movie theaters around the world, including in the U.S., might lead to further movies being made available to rent online instead of opting for a theatrical release down the road. However, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), in a recent statement updating on the coronavirus situation, cast doubt on that being the case. The statement reads as follows.
"Although there has been speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming, such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles. To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world. While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal."
So far, the list of major titles that have been delayed includes Peter Rabbit 2, A Quiet Place: Part II, No Time to Die, Mulan, The New Mutants, Antlers, F9 and Black Widow. Many of those are very expensive blockbusters that would have a very difficult time making enough money via $19.99 rentals, even though people can't go to the movies right now. Though, there are at least a couple in there, such as Antlers, possibly Peter Rabbit 2, and maybe even The New Mutants, that could make sense as streaming options.
Further waves were made recently when Disney released Frozen 2 on Disney+ months ahead of its streaming debut, while also dropping Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Digital HD several days early. Warner Bros. is similarly making several big titles, such as Birds of Prey, The Gentlemen and Just Mercy, available on VOD much earlier than they would have been otherwise.
The reason so many have made a big deal about all of this is that it's something theater chains, such as AMC, have argued against for years. As it stands, theaters expect an exclusive theatrical window close to three months. The idea of making a desirable new release available to stream at home for a premium, it has been argued, could hurt their business. So, while these movies, the majority of them anyway, will undoubtedly arrive in theaters before they arrive online, the traditional theatrical window, at the very least, could certainly be in question once things return to normal. This news comes to us via the National Association of Theatre Owners.