It’s a bad year for movies. It’s a pretty terrible year on just about every front, thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic — but it was going to be a pretty bad year for movies even before COVID-19 wiped the release calendar nearly clean and devastated movie theaters. Last year’s box office numbers looked pretty impressive — to the tune of $11.4 billion — but a lot of that came from a handful of gigantic blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame or Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, both of which crossed the industry's esteemed $1 billion box office threshold. Even before the pandemic, 2020 didn’t have anything of that caliber in store, and many analysts had somewhat grim predictions for the year’s box office.
Given the current circumstances, though, perhaps that’s for the best. People are debating if it’s safe or responsible to go to a theater to watch The New Mutants or Tenet. Imagine if we were instead weighing the risks of a deadly pandemic against finally finding out what happened after Infinity War or how the Star Wars saga ends?
While many major movie theater chains are claiming that they’re taking appropriate precautions by cleaning, filtering, and limiting capacity so that it is indeed safe to see a film, experts don’t all agree. A room full of people breathing, laughing, and taking off their masks to chew popcorn seems like fertile ground for another COVID surge. I personally won’t be going to a movie theater any time soon, partially out of concern for myself but more so because I don’t want to be the person who accidentally gets somebody else sick. But, also, I get it. I miss going to the movies. I know that other people miss going to the movies, and I understand that movie theaters miss having paying ticket-buyers. It is hard to accept that I might not see a movie in theaters for quite some time, yet I and many others believe it’s the right thing to do.
So we’re lucky, in some twisted sense, that we’re foregoing 2020’s movie slate, and not 2019’s.
To be fair, there are some highly anticipated movies that either were supposed to come out in 2020 or still might. Tenet is arguably the biggest one, as Christopher Nolan is the rare director who can still make an event blockbuster out of an original film idea, and Mulan will premiere on Disney+ rather than in the theater. Wonder Woman 1984 and Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond, No Time to Die, are set to come out later this year after having been pushed back numerous times (due to both the coronavirus outbreak and production woes). Meanwhile, films like Fast & Furious 9 and Top Gun: Maverick have been pushed to next year, as have the next Marvel Cinematic Universe movies Black Widow and Eternals.
But, while moviegoers might be eager to see in F9 how Han survived his supposed death, learn what Diana is doing in the '80s, and discover what the next phase of the MCU is going to be, those questions are nothing compared to the resolutions promised in Endgame and Rise of Skywalker. Along with Game of Thrones' final season, which as a TV series would likely have had its premiere largely unaffected by the pandemic, those two movies were 2019’s big conclusions. There will be more Star Wars and more of the MCU — indeed, there were two films on the schedule for this year for the latter — but those will be the start of something new (or in Black Widow’s case, a flashback of sorts). Curiosity about what happens next isn’t the same as the desire for a conclusion, especially when hungry genre fans had already spent a year speculating after Infinity War and The Last Jedi.
There are really no good options for a pandemic like this. Ideally, our government would be better at combating the virus’ spread, rather than leaving it up to personal choice. Even more ideally, there just wouldn’t be a pandemic. But, perhaps it’s some small saving grace that movies were disrupted this way in 2020 and not 2019. Not because it means that MCU fans didn’t have to keep waiting to find out how all their favorite heroes return to life after Thanos’ snap or because we weren’t left hanging for the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga — although that’s certainly a nice bonus. At a time when we all feel like we’re stuck in a horrid sort of stasis, with nothing to do but wonder how this will all end, at least there are some fun things we don’t need to wonder about.
The real saving grace, though, is that there’s perhaps one less incentive for moviegoers to do the risky thing. If the American response to the pandemic boils down to individuals making personal decisions that have widespread, possibly tragic consequences, then it’s good that two of the biggest events in pop culture history have been taken out of the equation.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.