2020 box office: What would reports have been like without COVID-19?
It’s the definition of wishful thinking at this point, but as cinephiles, it’s hard for us to not imagine what the box office would’ve looked like if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t so irrevocably disrupted our lives.
Due to the social distancing measures & the consequent closure of movie theatres, a whole summer’s worth of movies was wiped from the industry’s slate. It’s true that a lot of them made a pivot to over-the-top platforms, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and the like. It still doesn’t sit well with us. Cinemagoers enjoy more than just what’s on the screen. The theatres are playgrounds for emotions themselves.
But 2020 upended this weekly ritual of catching up on the latest release. It’s also done some unimaginable things. For example, who would’ve thought that the original Broadway musical Hamilton will be released as a film that you can watch on your puny devices? It chips away on the grandeur of the musical stage.
As content creators & talk show hosts have tried to stay afloat by shooting & interviewing virtually, we’ve seen headlines we couldn’t have imagined. From Ellen DeGeneres’ public trial on grounds of allegations of a toxic workplace to the infection of Robert Pattinson, while shooting for The Batman movie, the turn of events has been mind-boggling.
Our coping mechanism is to imagine what it could’ve looked like if the coronavirus infection wasn’t in the equation. Let’s see what zeitgeist exists in our imagination where virtual interviews & shoots aren’t yet mainstream.
Mulan would’ve seen the light of the day
We all know Mulan, the story of the young, brave girl who disguises as a man during a battle in order to save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army? Disney’s live-action 2020 remake of Mulan would’ve treated you at the theatre, but instead, it got moved to Disney+. It was one of the first movies whose release was impacted due to the lockdown.
The release date was being pushed – an exercise that happened several times – in the hopes that the pandemic will be controlled soon. But in the US, the opening of the theatres seems like a distant wish, so Disney decided to release it on a video-on-demand basis.
If you’re a Disney+ subscriber, you’ll have to pay a premium fee on top of your subscription fee to watch Mulan. In December this extra fee will be scrapped. Had this release taken place at theatres, we imagine it’d make headlines for diversity, it’s compelling & evergreen storyline. It might even have broken records at the box office.
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet would’ve had a very different journey
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has been in the news for quite some time. Nolan’s movies are always quite the conversation-starters, so naturally, when cinemas came to a standstill, all eyes were hooked on Tenet. It got pushed from its initial release date of July 17 to August 26, making it the first movie to see the light of the day (or the dark of the cinema halls?) since the pandemic.
It premiered in over 70 countries & has already raked in almost 150 million dollars worldwide. Rated 12A in the UK by the BBFC, it debuted in IMAX format. People flocked to the theatres while observing social distancing measures.
Just like other Nolan movies, Tenet’s plot was also kept under wraps. From the trailers, we knew the movie had a lot to do with inversion, not time travel. It also touches upon the lack of determinism in quantum theory & explains that catastrophic situations offer alternatives that can change the whole story.
In another world, people would’ve been flocking to the theatres in July, running out of them just as fast, and then sharing theories back & forth on YouTube, on Reddit threads, on Twitter.
It’s not just the movie halls
The pandemic has impacted the culture around movies & that includes film festivals. We can no longer imagine the kind of celebration & crowds that mark any festival or function in the industry. The pandemic sent out cancellations for major film festivals, including South by Southwest in March & the Cannes Film Festival in May.
The industry as we knew it, might just have changed irrevocably. This will send a wave of change across the awards, screenings, and even the Academy.