The biggest spring blockbusters have already been postponed: Fast & Furious 9 was bumped to April 2021, No Time to Die was moved to November, and Disney’s Mulan and Black Widow are indefinitely delayed. Paramount sold its comedy The Lovebirds to Netflix, effectively punting on any kind of theatrical release (a strategy the studio has resorted to before). The next mega-blockbuster still on deck is Wonder Woman 1984 from Warner Bros., due out on June 5, which the studio has insisted will not receive an online release. That’s an early sign that what NATO is arguing is true—that even though people are sheltering at home in search of interesting things to watch, studios have little incentive to release an expensive superhero movie to home viewers first.
Thinking optimistically, Trolls World Tour may be an aberration rather than the start of a paradigm shift, and American theaters could reopen in May, back-loaded with new movies to offer to viewers who are desperate to get out of the house. But it’s just as easy to imagine a year or more of audiences approaching moviegoing very cautiously, even if cinemas reopen, which will require further strategizing on Hollywood’s part. Anticipating that dire scenario, the director Christopher Nolan, long a champion of the theater experience, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post underlining the human toll of closed theaters and urging studios to consider them in their release plans.