20th Century Studios Will Release Only Two or Three Theatrical Movies a Year Moving Forward

'Death on the Nile'Credit: 20th Century Studios
What will theatrical exhibition look like in a few years? 

Everything is changing. When I came to work in Hollywood in 2012, no one wanted to release a movie digitally, and the only streamer was Netflix, with Amazon Prime a distant second. As more and more of these channels and studios got apps and saw the lucrative possibility, things changed.

Then COVID hit, no one could go to the theaters, and streamers boomed. Everyone was selling them movies and watching as they turned a profit, and no one else did.  

It was brutal. 20th Century Fox sold to Disney, and suddenly Hollywood began consolidating who owned what. Rebranded as 20th Century Studios, it's a place to watch as everything unfolds. Once famed for making movies for adults as well as action intellectual property, the studio is in flux now, with the very idea of releasing movies in theaters at jeopardy. 

20th Century Studios President, Steve Asbell, sat down with the Hollywood Reporter to talk about the future of the business and his studios. We picked some of his most interesting quotes from the article

What does the future of film distribution look like?

When it comes to releasing movies in theaters, Asbell didn't shy away from the new strategy.

"It goes like the other divisions, two or three theatrical movies a year," Asbell told THR. "We’re navigating the marketplace like everyone else. There are movies like AvatarPlanet of the Apes and now Free Guy that have well-established theatrical precedence for a wide audience."

So, how will they choose what goes to theaters and what goes to streaming? It's going to be a case-by-case basis, but you can assume it's going to be those huge, undeniable tentpoles. Other than that, it might all be streaming. Disney owns Hulu, so that's where these other films would drop. 

"For now. We will evaluate these decisions film by film, and looking at the marketplace as it is, and making the predictions that we can," Asbell said. "We do have original films of scale in development that we haven’t announced yet, and it will be whatever feels right for that number of films per year. What’s great about all of this is that we have both. We have this explosive new streaming mandate to pursue, yet we also have titles that we can make [for theatrical]. We have more Avatar movies coming, we have more Free Guy movies coming. We’re going to be pretty busy."

Free Guy seems like an outlier, a large, original idea that succeeded with stars and a director with an overall at the studio, Shawn Levy.

But look at the movie they released by Ridley Scott, The Last Duel. While it suffered at the box office, there was almost no marketing behind it. It's from an aging auteur, with three certified stars—but it's not likely they make a movie like that again. Same with someone like James Mangold, who did Ford v. Ferrari there. Will there be room for his next movies in the theatrical window they have planned?

They hope so, but with limited movies going to theaters, directors have to be cautious about making something inside that studio and seeing it premiere online. Certainly, agents will be contracting for theatrical releases, but we will see who has enough clout for that. 

Upcoming in 2022 is the new Avatar movie. It's definitely going to theaters this Christmas. And apparently, they're not worried about people buying in over a decade after the first.

Asbell said, "I can tell you that there is no better marketing apparatus in the business than the one at Disney. They will do an incredible job reigniting that passion for the original film. This is not just a sequel, it’s a saga. And it’s a family saga. It will be compelling on its own, but it will also be extremely compelling to return to those characters and to see how they’ve evolved. It’s less about Avatar being a really big movie and more about how Avatar was a really important cultural moment for audiences. I don’t think it will be hard to convince people to come back."

Time will tell if all these bets pay off, but limiting the theatrical releases is a scary shift for many people. One has to wonder how movies can stand the test of time if they're just released as content, but we've had that argument on here already. 

Are you embracing this new shift? Leave your thoughts in the comments.      

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1 Comment

Avatar... The future of cinema is bleak. But I hope they make a lot of money that they can use to make some interesting films. The blockbuster is necessary, but does it necessarily have to be that bad? Can't Disney use their world class marketing department for some good? Does it all have to be beige trash without a hint of moisture?

March 6, 2022 at 8:08AM

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