October 22, 2021

‘Dune’ release shifts to October 2021 in another blow to movie theater business

The release of “Dune,” a big-budget adaptation of the seminal sci-fi novel, will be delayed by nearly a full year, Warner Bros. has confirmed — dealing yet another blow to the pandemic-battered movie theater industry.

“Dune” will shift from Dec. 18, 2020, to Oct. 1, 2021, the studio said in a statement. The film, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothée Chalamet, was expected to be one of the marquee releases of the holiday season.

The announcement comes days after the theatrical debut of the James Bond movie “No Time to Die” was pushed for a second time, this time to April 2, 2021, because theaters across the country — including in the top North American markets, Los Angeles and New York — remain closed.

“No Time to Die,” the 25th installment in the James Bond franchise and the final edition starring Daniel Craig, was originally slated to open in April 2020. But earlier this year, the producers decided to bump it to Nov. 12 in the United Kingdom and Nov. 20 in the United States.

Disney, for its part, recently delayed the planned releases of 2020 projects until next year, too — including the Marvel action drama “Black Widow” and Steven Spielberg’s remake of the musical “West Side Story.”

Hollywood has been rattled after domestic ticket sales for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” the first blockbuster to land in theaters worldwide after months of closures related to Covid-19, were more tepid than expected, partly because many Americans are reluctant to return to multiplexes.

The exhibition business, in particular, faces stark questions about its future. Cineworld, the parent company of Regal Cinemas — the second largest theater chain in the U.S. — announced this week it would temporarily shutter its 663 theaters in the U.S. and Britain until further notice.

The leading studios — most significantly Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures — rely on robust box-office grosses to turn a profit on expensive projects. (Universal Pictures is a unit of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)

In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, studios postponed major films by a matter of weeks or months. But with the pandemic showing few signs of abating, production companies and distributors are now taking more drastic action, moving films deep into the 2021 calendar.

The holiday season this year will still see the debut of a few major films, however, barring any other postponements. The planned releases include “Wonder Woman 1984,” set to open Christmas Day after multiple delays, and “Death on the Nile,” a mystery set for Dec. 18.

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