Inside The Shifting Theatrical Release Dates: How Studios Changed Up The Movie Calendar As WGA Strike Clocks 100 Days
Editor’s note: One in a series of stories marking the 100th day of the WGA strike.
As the WGA strike clocks 100 days; simply put — the motion picture studios had always been bracing for this.
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Unlike the current SAG-AFTRA strike which forced the global shutdown of Hollywood movies including Gladiator 2 and Deadpool 3, the WGA strike, though largely considered to be a TV and streaming fight, has left its mark on the motion picture side — most predominantly on initially shaking up the theatrical release schedule.
Franchise leader Disney was the first studio to overhaul its calendar with the move of 21 movies from 2025 through 2031. Chief among them was the delay of James Cameron’s long-in-the-works Avatar 3 pushing from Christmas 2024 to 2025, and several Marvel projects re-dated including Phase 6 finales Avengers: Kang Dynasty going from the start of May 2025 to 2026, and Avengers: Secret Wars shifting from May 2026 to May 2027. Avatar 5 alone jumped three years from Dec. 22, 2028 to Dec 19, 2031.
However, given Marvel’s softer box office track record since coming out of the pandemic, the studio figured it was better not to rush unbaked pics into production, rather wait out the strikes. Marvel was the only studio that tried to finish pre-production on upcoming Thunderbolts and Blade before ultimately halting pre-production indefinitely, which ultimately pushed out its physical productions; both of those pics now both respectively delayed until Dec, 20, 2024 and Feb. 14, 2025.
Overall, the consensus around town is that a prolonged actors and writers strike through November would leave the latter half of the 2024 theatrical release calendar barren. The actors strike has had a more immediate and exacerbating impact on this year’s theatrical release calendar given how performers aren’t permitted to promote; Zendaya pic Challengers, Sony’s Ghostbusters sequel and Kraven the Hunter, and Focus Features’ Drive Away Dolls have already departed for 2024. More changes to this year’s tentpoles could be afoot. Legendary Entertainment/Warner Bros.’ Dune: Part Two, which stars Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh and Austin Butler is currently scheduled for Nov. 3 but is poised to move into 2024. Sony recently delayed several big titles due to the actors strike, including the Spider-Man: Beyond the Spiderverse to a TBD date, however, Bad Boys 4 is eyeing a June 14 opening next year.
Unlike the strike of 2007-08, which saw the complete scrapping of such big movies as George Miller’s Justice League at Warner Bros with Adam Brody as The Flash and Armie Hammer as Batman; and Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War Bruce Willis title Pinkville, studios continued to shoot movies sans writers on set, many lensing abroad to avoid picketers who forced three notable independent films to close down: Wayfarer Studios’ Blake Lively movie It Ends With Us, Lionsgate’s Aziz Ansari movie Good Fortune with Keanu Reeves and Seth Rogen and Artists Equity’s Jennifer Lopez title Unstoppable.
Between the writers’ walkout on May 2 and up until July 14 when the actors’ strike began, roughly 20 feature films around the globe were able to finish filming in some fashion, whether it was ten days or a complete start-to-stop production. Some of these titles included Focus Features’ Nosferatu, Warner Bros.’ Beetlejuice 2 in the UK, Bad Boys 4 in Georgia, Disney/Marvel Studios’ Captain America: New World Order, 20th Century Studios’ new Alien pic, the Will Ferrell-Reese Witherspoon Amazon Studios movie You’re Cordially Invited and The Gorge starring Miles Teller.
However, the qualitative ripple effects of lensing without a writer has yet to be seen in the long-term. Know that it’s par for the course for scribes to remain on set; Martin Scorsese told a crowd at CinemaCon he kept re-writing Killers of the Flower Moon up until the last day of shooting. The previous writers’ strike of 2007-08 churned out a slew of movies which tanked both critically and commercially including the Rob Marshall musical Nine ($54M WW, $80M cost) and the Will Ferrell remake of the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost ($68.8M WW, $100M cost). Although there wasn’t a strike in 2001, the studios’ anticipation of one led to such undercooked movies as The Truth About Charlie, Reign of Fire and Dark Blue.
In regards to the fates of It Ends With Us, Good Fortune and Unstoppable, we hear that these movies aren’t in peril, rather will resume filming once both strikes cease. The question remains whether casts will remain intact; actors’ schedules are subject to change once performers fully return to work.
Despite studios pausing pre-production on projects without finished scripts, there were screenplays which were delivered in time to allow execs to set directors and build out casts for 2024 shoots. One of those projects was James Gunn’s DC Studios Superman: Legacy, which included the meeting and screen-testing talent for the roles of Superman and Lois Lane during the WGA strike/pre-SAG-AFTRA strike with the final naming of David Corenswet and Rachel Brosnahan as Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
An underrated factor that we weren’t seeing early on in the WGA strike, but are currently seeing plenty of during SAG-AFTRA is how films are promoted, specifically at premieres and film festivals. Though talent lost the ability to hit the late-night talk show market once the WGA strike started, studios still found ways to promote films whether it was using morning talk shows as more of a platform or even podcasts like The Rewatchables episode Jennifer Lawrence did right before No Hard Feelings came out.
At Cannes, writer-directors such as Martin Scorsese, James Mangold and Wes Anderson showed up at respective global premieres and press conferences for Killers of the Flower Moon, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Asteroid City under their contracts as directors. However, screenwriters such as Asteroid City‘s Roman Coppola sidestepped press in solidarity with writers. While Greta Gerwig appeared on stage at the world premiere of Barbie as director in early July, her partner and co-writer Noah Baumbach stayed home. Given DGA’s renewed contract with the AMPTP, expect directors to certainly show up at the fall film festivals. However, SAG-AFTRA is only permitting those casts of independent movies with guild interim agreements to promote at TIFF, Venice and Telluride.
Still, once the strikes over, the 2024 theatrical release schedule could see another dry period much like the one we had last August-September, which was caused by several movies getting delayed due to a logjam in the post-production pipeline caused by Covid. For movies such as Deadpool 3 and Gladiator 2, for example, it could take three weeks before crews are assembled and brought back to filming, putting stress for those titles to meet their release dates of May 3, 2024 and Nov. 22, 2024.
“Once these strikes are over, there’s going to be an intense rush, demand and ultimate unavailability of below-the-line workers,” one studio executive told Deadline.
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