Welcome to the era of the fall blockbuster
How the pandemic changed Hollywood's calendar — maybe forever
This weekend I went to see Titane, a new movie that will easily be the most disturbing, off-the-rails 108 minutes you experience this year. Though I don't expect the nauseating French body horror to notch its distributor, Parasite's Neon, another Oscar win, I do predict a cult hit: Seeing it in a crowd of 1,000 horrified, shrieking filmgoers at the New York Film Festival ahead of its official release on Oct. 1 confirmed for me that this is a movie you don't want to save for home. (I recommend going into it knowing nothing of the plot, though you can watch the redband trailer here.)
I mention Titane not because it will be the biggest film of the fall, but because its timing is indicative of a major shift in Hollywood's annual rhythm — a difference from last year and pre-pandemic times alike. Thanks to a pile-up of delayed films from 2020 and early 2021, as well as audiences who are finally relaxed enough to congregate in theaters again, the entire film calendar is changing. October is becoming Hollywood's new June.
It wasn't always trending this way. A year ago, a film like Titane — a foreign-language gross-out spectacle with no big star attached — would've been a direct-to-streaming release (and its reception would have suffered without the giddy, amplifying crowd effect). Though critics prematurely celebrated the return of movies this spring, the surge of COVID-19's Delta variant scared off would-be moviegoers. Younger generations' changing habits already posed a risk to the traditional movie calendar, which relied on the expectation of bored teenagers on summer break, and that risk only grew when COVID-19 made the theater a forbidden gathering place. The result? The summer movie season that wasn't.
Skittish film studios delayed their blockbusters accordingly: Paramount kicked Top Gun: Maverick from July to November, then to 2022; MGM pushed No Time to Die back for the umpteenth time (with rumors it would be delayed even longer); and Disney's Black Widow, one of the few blockbusters that did come out, was significantly a flop, posting the biggest second-weekend decline for any Marvel Cinematic Universe film. As recently as Sept. 1, it seemed we were on the cusp of a new round of major delays.
This weekend appeared to bring more bad news when what should have been a crowd-pleasing Broadway adaptation, Dear Evan Hansen, couldn't make even a modest $10 million debut. But it would be a mistake to take the musical's failure as a sign of a still-lagging industry: Dear Evan Hansen is an outlier due to its multiple disastrous miscalculations.
The real box office story of the week is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which became the biggest grossing movie at the domestic box office and prompted Disney to confirm that the rest of its fall and winter 2021 slate — including the Marvel movie Eternals, the animated musical Encanto, and Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story — will have exclusive theatrical releases. Also coming to theaters in the next month alone: The Many Saints of Newark (Oct. 1); the kooky A24 horror film Lamb (Oct. 8); No Time to Die (Oct. 8); Mike Myers installment Halloween Kills (Oct. 15); Bergman Island (Oct. 15); the new Wes Anderson film The French Dispatch (Oct. 22); the highly-anticipated adaptation of Dune (Oct. 22); and Edgar Wright's new film, Last Night in Soho (Oct. 28). The win for long-suffering multiplexes cannot be overstated.
In fact, things are looking so up this fall that Sony's Venom: Let There Be Carnage — once rumored to be up for a 2022 delay — actually moved its release date two weeks forward, to Oct. 1, to cash in on the fall movie frenzy. "This is the proverbial calm before the storm. October looks to be perhaps one of the biggest months of the year at the box office," confirmed Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore, to The Associated Press. "It's going to be like summer in October in movie theaters."
The open question is whether this is a one-year trend or a permanent new shape for studios' schedules. There have been signs for a while now that the summer movie season isn't as fixed as it was traditionally believed to be. And while 2022 will likely go back to a more normal-looking film calendar, moviegoers might come to expect blockbusters in October after an autumn as loaded as this one.
After all, if a movie as deliriously wacky as Titane is poised to make it big right now, anything has a shot.