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This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The perfect release date is perhaps the most precious commodity in Hollywood, with studios now forced to schedule big movies three to four years out. So when the largest player in the movie galaxy shifts its opening by six months, the fallout touches nearly everyone.
On Jan. 20, a flurry of changes hit the 2017 movie calendar after Disney pushed back the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII from Memorial Day weekend to Dec.15 of that year. “It all but settled the argument that there was no way Avatar 2 was going to make 2017,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners, referring to the James Cameron sequel that never officially was set for the 2017 holidays but had been suggested by Fox. “And Disney was so thrilled with how well Star Wars: The Force Awakens performed in the December slot, why mess with a good thing?”
With Star Wars out of the way, two 2017 tentpoles moved into a summer already crowded with Fast and Furious (April 14) and Guardians of the Galaxy (May 5) sequels, plus Wonder Woman (June 23). Sony’s Jumanji reboot, originally slotted for Dec. 25, 2016, now will hit theaters July 28, 2017. Universal’s The Mummy reboot, starring Tom Cruise, now will open June 9 instead of March 24. And Sony and Marvel’s untitled Spider-Man has moved up from July 28 to July 7. Paramount yanked one film entirely, a Terminator: Genisys sequel, replacing it with Dwayne Johnson’s Baywatch movie May 19. (Disney, savvy not to let another studio nab the Memorial Day slot, shifted Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales from July 7 to the old Star Wars date, May 26.)
Hollywood is getting better at year-round programming, but execs still want what they perceive as a primetime berth for their biggest movies — spring break, the May-July corridor and year-end holidays. “The release calendar shuffle is not a dance number, but rather a high-stakes chess game that truly heated up within the past week with some of the biggest and most anticipated titles making bold moves into the heart of summer,” says Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian.
The changes, however, set up several showdowns. For one, June 9 now has three major offerings: Mummy, Paramount’s World War Z sequel and Lionsgate’s The Divergent Series: Ascendant. And Warner Bros., which had claimed Dec. 15 for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, now has to figure out whether it wants to open the film opposite Star Wars. “I foresee a few more big changes,” says box-office analyst Jeff Bock, adding a bold prediction based on additional tentpoles such as a new Wolverine movie (March 3), Alien: Covenant (Oct. 6) and Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3): “2017 as a whole will undoubtedly destroy all box-office records.”
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