Connery. Sean Connery.

It is, quite simply, the greatest screen introduction of all time. Nearly 60 years ago, the suave tuxedoed super agent lighting his cigarette in the posh casino and uttering three words that changed cinematic history.

“Bond. James Bond.”

They were, of course, spoken by Sean Connery. And that line of dialogue, flawlessly delivered, kicked off the franchise of all franchises. The role of 007 was followed by George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Yet to most lovers of the art form – Connery is Bond. He perfected Ian Fleming’s British hero from the start in Dr. No and continued to do so in the seminole pictures from the series including From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. 

When a performer passes on, as Connery has at age 90, it’s easy to delve into hyperbole. That doesn’t apply here. The man truly was and is an icon. Just being the best and original Bond would be enough to cement that legacy.

However, there’s plenty more. His Oscar winning turn as the tough and gruff Malone in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. His role as the father to Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. Being Alfred Hitchcock’s leading man in Marnie. His Soviet captain in The Hunt for Red October. The escape artist opposite Nicolas Cage in The Rock. His shining star among other legends in Murder on the Orient Express.

The man who will always be Bond and much more may be gone, but that famous introduction and hours of additional first rate entertainment will be there for us to appreciate. And nobody looked cooler providing it to us.

Sean Connery. Icon. August 25, 1930-October 31, 2020.

No Time to Dune

If you felt obligated to write out a 2020 movie release schedule in pencil lately, it would be decimated with cross outs and erasure marks. Quite frankly, it’s tough to keep up with for movie lovers. In the past few days, it’s become even more pronounced and it’s more evidence that theaters simply aren’t ready for tentpole releases.

This was evident in July when Christopher Nolan’s Tenet wildly underperformed stateside. It served as a signal to studios that it’s better to wait and most of the delays have moved into 2021. Dune, the eagerly awaited latest effort from Denis Villeneuve, is the latest push. Originally scheduled for November and then delayed to December, Warner Bros. (who put out Tenet) has now slated it for October 2021.

The Dune activity occurs just after the new 007 pic No Time to Die announced a new Easter 2021 date. It was originally meant to hit theaters in February of this year. This follows Black Widow moving to May 2021 (original date was May 2020) and that meant the MCU’s Eternals traveled from February 2021 to November 2021. And that was around the time Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story received a year long delay to Christmastime ’21.

Still following? Yeah, I know. So what’s left for 2020? In short, nothing soon except for cinematic table scraps like The War with Grandpa with Robert De Niro (this Friday) and Honest Thief with Liam Neeson (next Friday).

Pixar is scheduled to unveil Soul in November. We shall see if they decide not to go the Disney+ route like they did with Mulan and other titles. The Croods: A New Age is supposed to come out over the Thanksgiving holiday. And December still has heavy hitters like Wonder Woman 1984, Death on the Nile, Free Guy, and Coming 2 America. 

The bottom line – who knows? Everything is tentative in these uncertain days. Streaming options will continue to increase. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tenet is available for a high price on such services in short order. For 007 fans and those awaiting Dune, there’s more time to anticipate.

Mulan Gets a Plus

Disney surprised a lot of box office commentators like myself to begin the week with major news about Mulan. The live-action adaptation of their 1998 animated feature, directed by Niki Caro, was intended to hit theaters on a worldwide scale on March 27th. This was, of course, just a couple of weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures of chains across the country.

Since delayed three more times, the Mouse Factory announced this afternoon that the tentpole feature will instead debut on the Disney+ streaming service on September 4. This allows lots of kids and their parents to view it over Labor Day weekend… at a cost of $30. While we have seen numerous pictures go the route of streaming as opposed to theatrical release in the past few months, Mulan is by far the most high profile.

The top brass at Disney made it clear that this is a one-off pattern. There was certainly no further announcement that their Black Widow (delayed from May) would follow suit. The news makes for a fascinating holiday weekend to monitor as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is currently scheduled for select cities in cinemas at the same time.

Depending on how well Mulan performs on the small screen (and it certainly could), one must wonder what that means for other big pics that were supposed to be released by now. To name a few – there’s No Time to Die, A Quiet Place Part II, Top Gun: Maverick, and Wonder Woman 1984.

It may not change anything, but Disney’s Monday bombshell feels like a potential sign of more unexpected pattens to follow. After all, the idea that Mulan would be a streaming debut would have sounded unfathomable pre-COVID. Time will tell, but those anticipating Mulan won’t have to wait long if they’re willing to fork over a premium price.

Paramount Changes

And the release dates keep shifting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, Disney announced sweeping changes to their future slate of projects (affecting Mulan and the Star Wars and Avatar franchises) and I covered it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/23/mickey-mouse-blinks/

That follows word from Warner Bros. on their shifting of Tenet, which I covered here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/20/tenet-falls-back/

Now it’s Paramount’s turn. There were a number of changes announced this evening, but I’ll cover the two most significant. Tom Cruise’s return to one of his signature roles was originally slated for July 12th of this year. If you think about it, it would almost surely be the #1 or #2 movie in America right now in an alternate universe. The long gestating sequel was then pushed back to December 23rd. And now its release has been delayed nearly a full year with an expected date of July 2, 2021.

A Quiet Place II was right around the corner when COVID hit with a March 18th premiere. The virus changed that plan to a Labor Day rollout. This sequel is now scheduled for April 23, 2021 – postponing its release by over a year from its intended landing.

It’s fair to say that this week has seen the most heavy hitters fall back. And as we’ve learned in 2020, expect plenty more changes and adjustments ahead.

Mickey Mouse Blinks

Today marked even more release shifting in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a lot of news of Disney. The Mouse Factory, to no one’s surprise, has moved their live-action remake of Mulan from August 21st to that date we’re all growing accustomed to… (say it together now) TBD.

That’s not all. Two of the studio’s biggest franchises saw their anticipated sequels, spin-offs, and reboots pushed back one year. The as yet untitled next episodes of Star Wars will not begin until December 2023 (with follow-up pics now slated for 2025 and 2027).

James Cameron’s four (yes, four) sequels to Avatar are delayed yet again. Part two is now pegged for December 2022 with parts 3, 4, and 5 now planned for December 2024, 2026, and 2028.

And… that’s not all. Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (his follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express) has been pushed back two weeks from October 9th to October 23rd of this year (we’ll see it that holds). Mr. Branagh has already seen a COVID change a few weeks back when his critically reviled Artemis Fowl scrapped its theatrical bow in favor of a Disney+ debut.

Some other developments: Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel changed from Christmas 2020 to October 2021. Wes Anderson’s eagerly awaited (and potential Oscar contender) The French Dispatch saw its October 2020 premiere altered to… (say it again) TBD.

This follows the announcement from Warner Bros. earlier this week that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (long seen as the first real COVID test for theaters) is now a TBD property after its hoped for August rollout. After the Tenet news, the ball was passed to Mulan. Not anymore.

Now the paradigm shifts again… to Disney. One could say that the MCU’s Black Widow is now the first massive blockbuster scheduled to debut on November 6th. Let’s see if it stays that way in our new cinematic universe.

Tenet Falls Back

As I’ve stated in any COVID-19 related post on this blog, the release of movies in theaters is far from the most pressing concern as it relates to the pandemic. However, this site covers the world of film and a significant development occurred today when it comes to that future.

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has long been seen as the first real test of financial viability for theaters. For several months now, it has been the tentpole release pegged to be out of the gate before all others. With its $200 million budget and with one of the few directors behind it that guarantees an audience, a direct to streaming output has never been an option. Many other smaller budget features have already gone that route and it’s been covered here. Tenet was originally scheduled for a global bow last Friday (July 17) before shifting to July 31 and then August 12. Hours ago, Warner Bros. made an announcement that many have been anticipating. The thriller starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson has now moved to a familiar release date… TBD.

The studio’s press release still indicates a desire for a 2020 rollout. The announcement goes on to say that Tenet may not receive a traditional release. Reading between the lines – this means it could be out in foreign markets before it hits screens stateside. This is in no doubt related to the recent surge of COVID cases in North America vs. other parts of the world.

Why is this announcement on one movie so big? Because a domino effect is sure to follow and it has already started. Rom com The Broken Hearts Gallery from Sony Pictures shifted its August 7th date to TBD shortly after. The Russell Crowe pic Unhinged is still slated to open next weekend (July 31). We will see if that holds (it could be a prime candidate for streaming).

Disney’s Mulan is currently scheduled for August 21. I would not be surprised if this changes and quickly. You may recall that it was originally supposed to come out in March when the pandemic began shutting down sectors of the economy.

Warner Bros. also revealed that The Conjuring 3 (part of their flagship horror franchise) is now moved to summer of 2021. One must wonder what other studios will do with some of their high profile product scheduled for September and October (August is pretty much wiped out at this juncture save for Mulan at the moment). That list includes A Quiet Place II (already delayed from spring) and Wonder Woman 1984 (already delayed from summer).

Bottom line: the fall back of Tenet greatly increases the probability of November being the real start of major product in the multiplexes. That’s when already delayed projects like Black Widow, No Time to Die, and Soul are scheduled. And that is, of course, tentative as well in this new cinematic reality.

X-Men at 20: A Look Back

Twenty years ago today, Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in theaters and it’s not hyperbole to call it one of the most influential pictures of the 21st century. The 20th Century Fox release found the comic book genre at a rather low point at the end of that said century. While Blade was a nice size hit in 1998, the years prior found at a lot to be desired with the quality of the genre. 1995 brought us Judge Dredd and 1997 saw the release of Batman and Robin, which found the Caped Crusader with Bat nipples and bad reviews.

X-Men, though it’s hard to remember now, was released at a time where the idea of superhero tales was an uncertain box office prospect. This is two years before Spider-Man broke all kinds of financial records. This is five years prior to Christopher Nolan reinvigorating the Bat franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy. And this was eight years before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man, officially kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the summer of 2000, X-Men was by no means a guaranteed hit. It did, however, have credibility with the behind the scenes talent and cast. Bryan Singer was known for his heralded The Usual Suspects. Acclaimed actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen (fresh off an Oscar nod for Gods and Monsters), Anna Paquin, and Halle Berry were among the onscreen players. And it was another casting decision that provided its most enduring legacy. Russell Crowe, who headlined that summer’s Oscar winner Gladiator, originally turned down the part of Wolverine. Dougray Scott was then cast in the role, but had to drop out when his role as the villain in Mission: Impossible II (also out that summer) prevented him from filming. So it was the unknown Hugh Jackman who donned the claws. He would go on to make it his signature role as he played Logan/Wolverine in numerous sequels and spin-offs (including three stand-alone projects of wildly divergent qualities).

Let’s back up. Before the 2000 release, X-Men was in development for over a decade and a half. At one point, James Cameron was slated to produce with his then wife Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct. Later on, Robert Rodriguez turned the project down. A gander at the pic’s Wikipedia page is an entertaining read (Mariah Carey was in the mix for Storm at one juncture and Angela Bassett was first choice). X-Men was rushed to make its summer release date 20 years ago today after it was originally intended for Christmas 2000.

That rushed feeling does show on up on screen a little, but the overall end result speaks for itself. What occurred two decades ago is a major mark in the comic book movie renaissance that continues to this day. The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. X2: X-Men United was the first sequel in 2003 and it is generally considered a high point. Three years later, Brett Ratner took over directorial reigns with The Last Stand and (while a huge hit) the quality took a dip. Matthew Vaughn would reestablish critical kudos in rebooting the series in 2011 with First Class (bringing Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence to the screen playing younger counterparts to key characters). Jackman’s first spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine faced deserved backlash while 2017’s Logan was lauded and landed an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. And a cheeky and R rated offshoot called Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds would dazzle audiences and critics alike. Last summer’s Dark Phoenix didn’t do any dazzling and was another low ebb in the series. Spin-off The New Mutants has seen release date changes that began in 2018 and it’s pretty much a running joke as to whether it will ever come out.

That long road began in 2000 and has shaped the cinematic universe since. And if you had to mark a spot for the comic book landscape today as it stands now on the screen, it started that day.

A New Cinematic Universe

The world is different this week. We are all beginning to feel it and know it. The Coronavirus has impacted the economy, our day to day activity, and our way of life. That will continue for the foreseeable future. I have already written once before about COVID-19 and its impact on what this blog focuses on… the movies.

I know it may seem trivial. And, in many ways, it is. Yet this is a movie blog. It’s a blog mostly devoted to box office predictions and that’s certainly what gets the most views on here.

So some thoughts:

The box office, like numerous other sectors of our economic fabric, is going to suffer. When I last wrote about Coronavirus just days ago, the latest James Bond picture No Time to Die had been pushed from April to November. There were other release date changes, but that was the headline.

What we’ve seen in the past 24 hours has been an escalation and an extreme one. A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, The New Mutants, and F9 have all moved to either indefinite status or to 2021. Other less tentpole titles have followed suit. Expect that to continue over the coming days.

Simply put – the American moviegoing experience is grinding to a halt. There are legitimate questions as to whether theaters will even stay open and with the announcements of the past week, it certainly would not be a massive shock at this juncture.

This blog may change until further notice. And we’re going through a period of time where we will need to get used to change. Again… maybe it sounds trivial and there are larger considerations to work through in our day to day operations…

Nevertheless, on this MOVIE blog… I’ll say this…

Let’s be kind to one another during this time. There will be stories of inspiration in the coming days through this darkness. We will see the humanity of our populace.

We are inspired by movies. Many of us may have some more time in the coming days and weeks to scour the vaults of streaming services and television. If your kids are home from school, maybe it’s time to inspire them with the Star Wars franchise or animated classics or The Goonies if they’ve never seen them. I know they inspired me.

If you’re a die-hard movie buff like I am, maybe it’s time to rewatch the pictures that inspired you. We could all use that lift right now.

Tom Hanks once said, “My job has always been to hold a mirror up to nature”. We’ve certainly seen him do that in many terrific performances. We wish him well. These are new challenges we face and we will prevail. Let’s be proud of the nature of our reflection in the mirror as we get through this.

The Coronavirus and The Movies

Let me start by stating the obvious – with COVID-19 or the Coronavirus dominating the worldwide news cycle, its impact on the moviegoing public is very far from the most important story. However, this is a blog focused on the world of film and especially the box office.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has touched the cinematic universe this week and beyond. The major news in this space began a couple of days back when the latest James Bond pic No Time to Die was delayed from April 10th until November. Producers made no secret that Coronavirus was the reason. For a tentpole release of this stature to get delayed opens up the real possibility of others that could follow. On a smaller scale, the Dave Bautista comedy My Spy was pushed from next Friday to mid April.

News continued yesterday as the South by Southwest Festival in Austin was canceled. Scheduled to begin on March 16, SXSW serves as a launching pad for dozens of features and documentaries. In 2020, this included such high profile titles as David Lowery’s The Green Knight, Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island with Pete Davidson, and Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick follow-up The Lovebirds starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.

We will see what the future brings as outside factors are certainly influencing how studios and festival organizers make decisions.

Oscar Watch – David Crosby: Remember My Name

The rock doc David Crosby: Remember My Name has hit screens in limited fashion as of last weekend. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early this year to glowing reviews that have continued upon its theatrical release. Focused on the founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, it is directed by A.J. Eaton and co-produced by Cameron Crowe.

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%, could Remember hear its name called for consideration in the Best Documentary Feature race at Oscar time? That’s not outside the realm of possibility. I’d say it stands a better chance than the arguably higher profile Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese, which was released to Netflix weeks ago.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…