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Theater shuffle returns: ‘Clifford’ pulled due to COVID delta variant concerns - are other movies next?

By Matthew Jackson
Clifford the Big Red Dog Still

Are we facing a new season of movie release date shake-ups? Deadline reports Paramount Pictures has decided to pull Clifford the Big Red Dog, the first live-action film starring the iconic oversized pup, from its planned Sept. 17 theatrical release, citing concerns over the spreading delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

The move comes as the film was tracking well with families and preparing to make its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. Now, after some speculation that it would just be moved a few days, the film is reportedly off the calendar entirely.

When it comes to movies studios might want to hold off on releasing, Clifford is perhaps the most obvious choice at the moment. It is, after all, a family film, and one of the key concerns about the spreading variant at the moment is over children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The trailer for the film has racked up more than 130 million views as of this writing, indicating a high excitement level among kids and families, but if some parents don't want their unvaccinated kids in crowded movie theaters right now, that could be a problem.

So far, there's no word on what the studio plans to do with the film now. It could, like the recent Spongebob Squarepants film and the Mark Wahlberg sci-fi thriller Infinite, eventually make the leap over to the Paramount+ streaming service, which would perhaps boost the profile of that outlet among families as the new school year gets underway. It could also simply sit in the can until the studio feels more comfortable rolling it out theatrically, perhaps closer to the holiday season or sometime next spring.

Whatever happens, after more than a year of movie releases being delayed, moved to streaming, or shifting to a hybrid release model, Clifford's postponement has left many wondering: Are other movies next?

Though there have been a few blockbusters opting to take the "only in theaters" approach, like F9, there have also been plenty who have taken the hybrid route. Warner Bros.' The Suicide Squad will hit theaters and HBO Max this weekend, and Disney's done it with major releases twice in the last month, with Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, and both films enjoyed a solid (for the pandemic era, anyway) box office opening while also raking in Disney+ Premiere Access dollars for the studio. This has of course led fans and pundits alike to look ahead to Disney's next major potential blockbuster, Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which is set to hit theaters exclusively on Labor Day weekend.

There's no word from Disney on whether or not they'd actually consider shifting anything with regard to that film at this point, but there's already plenty of speculation over what a hybrid release for the film might mean, particularly in light of Scarlett Johansson's recent Black Widow lawsuit.

The bottom line is, it is once again quickly becoming a very complicated time to be releasing a film. Experts differ in opinion over just how long the delta variant wave might last, and what lasting impact it might leave, but at the moment there are genuine concerns over crowded indoor public spaces once again, and that means movie theaters are going to once again be a concerning place for many fans. In the meantime, no matter what theaters and studios do, stay safe and get vaccinated so we can all be back at the movies again as soon as possible.