Not even the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could overcome what will prove to be the year of "indefinite delays." Fans were dealt the crushing news in a recent report from Variety, detailing that Marvel's Black Widow, Eternals, and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would all be subsequently delayed into 2021.
Actors from the likes of David Harbour and Kumail Nanjiani expressed their sympathies in the announcement of delays, and for Black Widow in particular, fans held out hope that the film could potentially see a release on Disney+, similar to that of Disney's Mulan. Fans are likely disappointed that such a hope did not come to fruition, but for theater chains, they are expressing the opposite.
In a response shared through /Film, Patrick Corcoran, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer of NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) touched on the survival of theater chains heading into 2021. In particular, Corcoran noted the impact of studios postponing blockbuster films for theatrical release:
We need big movies…We’d hoped that Disney would hold on, but studios have to make their decisions based on their marketing spend and their marketing plan. If they aren’t certain that theaters will be open, they’re going to delay. We’re gratified that they’re moving and not going to Disney+. That’s kind of an important statement.
Ultimately for theaters to survive it will hinge on a sufficient audience, and as Corcoran expressed, blockbuster films are a catalyst for bringing moviegoers back into the seats.
But until we get some of that certainty, we may be seeing theaters close back down again because it’s really tough, if you don’t have new movies coming in, to keep the lights on. To keep paying people. You lose money being closed, but you may end up losing more money if you can’t get audiences in and you’re open.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Patrick Corcoran's statement is a proxy for expressing the point of view of the party that has been most affected by the delays: the theater chains themselves. Fans' disappointment has been well noted and the actors have expressed the same sentiment. Many are quick to assume, and perhaps rightly so, that studios are choosing to delay these films for the sole purpose of maximizing profit via theatrical release.
But another point of view that is highlighted with Corcoran's statement is the impact that these delays, and undoubtedly the shift towards streaming services, has had on traditional theater chains. His comments are a true testament to how the film industry has evolved. "We need big movies...We'd hoped that Disney would hold on...We're gratified that they're moving and not going to Disney+." He is explicitly naming Disney, and thus Marvel Studios, by name.
It's a sentiment that shows that superhero blockbuster films, in many ways, are the ultimate factor in ensuring theater chains are profitable and remain successful. No matter the ease of watching a Marvel film on Disney+, it will never take away the thrill of hearing the crowd reactions to an iconic moment on the big screen. If anything, Corcoran's comments may shed light on the need of a hybrid release approach given our current situation: a theatrical release coincided with an eventual release straight to fans' homes via Disney+.