From James Bond to Marvel: can Hollywood survive a year without blockbusters?

Holding out for a hero ... No Time to Die; Ghostbusters: Afterlife; Dune; Wonder Woman 1984 – Chúng ta vẫn đang phải chờ ... No Time to Die; Ghostbusters: Afterlife; Dune; Wonder Woman 1984.

[Reading level: C2 – Mastery]

No Time to Die is the latest film to be delayed by Covid – again. But release dates can’t be pushed back indefinitely.


Few of us will be able to recall a time when the words “Coming soon to a cinema near you” were not part of our cultural vocabulary. What a difference a pandemic makes. Following the postponement of numerous big-budget titles by a year or more, the phrase “coming soon” now carries with it the ring of equivocation, the threat of deferred or broken promises. The mood is best summed up by the tagline for The Croods 2, one of the many films that may or may not open later this year amid the hokey-cokey of shifting release dates: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”


For an understanding of how we got here, look at the fates of two films that did get released during the pandemic. Following a tense summer in which Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and Disney’s live-action Mulan remake competed against the coronavirus in a game of grandmother’s footsteps (*), both films were finally released using opposing strategies.


“Warner Bros did a brave thing bringing out Tenet [in cinemas] at that very fraught time,” says Naman Ramachandran, international correspondent at Variety magazine. “It sent a positive message to the exhibition sector as a whole.” Disney, on the other hand, launched Mulan on its streaming service Disney+, where it came with a premium price tag (£19.99/$29.99) in addition to subscription fees. Cinemas screened it only in territories where Disney+ is not available. “My opinion is that Disney should’ve released Mulan in cinemas also,” says Ramachandran. “There was a demand for it and it would’ve kept the theatrical chains happy.” As it stands, no one is: not the exhibitors who lost out on an event movie, nor Disney, who won’t be thrilled if the mediocre streaming audience estimates are correct.


Mulan’s defection and Tenet’s under-performance in the US (it still hasn’t opened in the lucrative New York and Los Angeles markets, where cinemas remain closed) have had a devastating effect on other big releases. The biggest development came at the weekend when the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, was delayed yet again, this time to April 2021, a full year on from its original release date. Its initial seven-month postponement to November had looked prudent at the start of the pandemic; this one, coming when cinemas are in jeopardy, feels cowardly. Indeed, Cineworld has announced that it will temporarily close all 128 of its UK and Ireland screens now that Bond’s withdrawal has made business “unviable”.


There are few bright spots ahead. Kenneth Branagh’s starry remake of Death on the Nile, originally due this month, has been nudged downriver to December, where its rivals may include Warner Bros blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984 (although some expect that film to move, too). Next year is shaping up to be the year of the “tardy tentpole”, with Steven Spielberg’s new version of West Side Story shunted back an entire year from this Christmas to next, while Dune, also due to come out in December, has been pushed back to October. Marvel’s Black Widow was also lined up for this month but will now appear in spring, along with the likes of A Quiet Place Part II, Fast & Furious 9, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark. And pity Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, which has abandoned its mid-October date and fallen off the schedule altogether. The pause in film production this year during lockdown may just about offset all these new releases backing up.


Marvel, though, looks to be in an especially precarious position. Not only are its films too costly to be diverted to streaming but they are too intricately scheduled (with launch dates fixed years in advance), to be released out of their pre-planned chronological order. After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has staked its brand on overlapping characters and interconnected storylines intended to be watched in sequence. The delay to Black Widow, not to mention the effects of production shutdowns, will surely create a domino effect on future titles. The studio also faces a balancing act between stoking fans’ anticipation and allowing titles such as Black Widow to gather cobwebs on the shelf.


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals, the 25th and 26th instalments in the MCU, are currently set to open in 2021, while the proposed release dates for future titles such as Thor: Love and Thunder (February 2022) and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (March 2022) may as well be written in smoke now for all the reassurance they provide.


The volatility of the current situation means that the blockbuster stranglehold might at least be loosened for a time. In the short term, independent films have been allowed more of a look-in.


“With the studios moving away, there have been opportunities for smaller distributors,” says Philip Knatchbull, the CEO of Curzon, which releases its films in cinemas and on its own streaming service. One forthcoming film, About Endlessness, directed by the deadpan comic miserabilist Roy Andersson, was originally scheduled to “duke it out” – as Knatchbull jokingly puts it – with Black Widow in early November. “Maybe now Roy can finally have one of his films go saturation [i.e released widely],” he says. Well, we can dream.


Then again, box office trends in the Covid era have been unpredictable. The sleeper hit of the year, YA romance sequel After We Collided, has grossed more than £2.5m in the UK and Ireland on the back of social media campaigns and fans’ enthusiasm rather than traditional marketing and reviews. Family films have also performed spectacularly: Pixar’s Onward, which had its original run interrupted by the closure of cinemas, achieved a 48% rise in box office at the end of September, more than six months after it opened.


The first year of the Covid crisis may have shown that cinemas sorely need blockbusters, but “the UK exhibition sector is a lot more complicated than that”, according to Ramachandran. “People have been bravely releasing arthouse films, concert films, documentaries. The sheer diversity of what’s coming out is impressive.”


What will change if infection rates continue to fluctuate is the industry’s resistance to new films going to premium *video-on-demand (VOD). “I would point you to the situation in India,” says Ramachandran. “It’s one of the world’s biggest markets and it’s still closed [though cinemas there will now reopen from 15 October]. As early as May, a raft of big films intended for theatrical release, including the Bollywood remake of The Fault in Our Stars, went straight to Amazon. The next lot went to Disney’s streaming service, and a third lot went to Netflix. So the short answer to the VOD question is: it’s already happening.”


“We have to collectively accept that the perfect release is not possible and the future is uncertain,” says Knatchbull. “We have to be creative and look at new ways of working.” Resisting VOD while holding out for the theatrical landscape to stabilise could result in a distant future of movie premieres in which stars troop up the red carpet in 2023 and beyond promoting films that wrapped years earlier. Their faces will have acquired wrinkles and worry lines in the interim but the image of their younger selves will be preserved on the screen, a *Picture of Dorian Gray in reverse.




blockbuster /ˈblɒkˌbʌs.tər/ (n): (phim, tiểu thuyết…) bom tấn

recall /rɪˈkɔːl/ [B2] (v): nhớ lại

postponement  /pəʊstˈpəʊn.mənt/ (n): sự trì hoãn

numerous /ˈnjuː.mə.rəs/ [C1] (adj) = many: nhiều

big-budget  /bɪɡ ˈbʌdʒ.ɪt/ (adj): có chi phí đầu tư khủng

equivocation /ɪˌkwɪv.əˈkeɪ.ʃən/ [formal] (n): mập mờ

deferred /dɪˈfɜːd/ (adj): trì hoãn

tagline /ˈtæɡlaɪn/ (n): khẩu hiệu

amid /əˈmɪd/ [C1] (preposition): ở giữa

the hokey-cokey /ˌhəʊ.ki ˈkəʊ.ki/: điệu nhảy ngu ngốc, trong bài báo này ẩn ý là lịch phát hành bị dời “lung tung”

grandmother’s footsteps: một trò chơi của trẻ em nước Anh (Trong trò chơi này, một người sẽ là “Grandmother” rồi quay mặt đi, những người còn lại sẽ đứng ở phía sau và cố gắng đi đến chỗ của “Grandmother” để vỗ vai. “Grandmother” có thể quay mặt lại bất thình lình để quan sát những người phía sau, trong lúc quay mặt lại nếu “Grandmother” phát hiện có ai đó đang cử động thì người đó buộc phải trở lại vạch xuất phát. Ai vỗ vai được “Grandmother” thì người đó sẽ trở thành “Grandmother” và trò chơi bắt đầu lại từ đầu.)

opposing /əˈpəʊ.zɪŋ/ (adj): đối lập

fraught /frɔːt/ (adj): khó khăn

lose out on sth: mất, lỡ mất

thrilled /θrɪld/ [B2] (adj): cực kì vui sướng

mediocre /ˌmiː.diˈəʊ.kər/ [C2] (adj): xoàng, tầm thường, không như mong đợi

defection /dɪˈfek.ʃən/ (n): sự rời khỏi, sự rút lui

under-performance /ˌʌn.də.pəˈfɔː.məns/ (n): sự hoạt động kém hiệu quả

lucrative /ˈluː.krə.tɪv/ [C2] (adj): đem lại nhiều lợi nhuận, béo bở

devastating /ˈdev.ə.steɪ.tɪŋ/ [C2] (adj): nặng nề, tàn khốc

prudent /ˈpruː.dənt/ (a): thận trọng

in jeopardy: gặp nguy, lâm nguy

cowardly /ˈkaʊ.ə [B2] (adj): hèn nhát

unviable /ʌnˈvaɪ.ə.bəl/ (adj): không theo kế hoạch, trì trệ

nudged downriver: chuyển dòng chảy (ở đây nói đến chuyện hoãn ngày phát hành phim)

rival /ˈraɪ.vəl/ [C1] (n): đối thủ

shape up: định hình

tardy tentpole: cột mốc chậm trễ

shunt back: lùi lại, hoãn lại

line up: xếp hàng

prequel /ˈpriː.kwəl/ (n): phần tiền truyện

lockdown /ˈlɒk.daʊn/ (n): phong toả

offset /ˌɒfˈset/ [C2] (v): bù đắp

precarious /prɪˈkeə.ri.əs/ (adj): nguy hiểm, bấp bênh

costly /ˈkɒ (adj): tốn kém

divert to: chuyển sang

intricately /ˈɪn.trɪ.kə (adv): một cách tỉ mỉ, phức tạp

stake /steɪk/ (v): mạo hiểm

overlapping /ˌəʊ.vəˈlæp.ɪŋ/ (adj): chồng chéo, trùng lặp

interconnected /ˌɪn.tə.kəˈnek.tɪd/ (adj): được kết nối với nhau

in sequence: theo chuỗi, theo bộ

domino effect: hiệu ứng domino

stoke anticipation: đáp ứng dự đoán

gather cobwebs on the shelf: đóng mạng nhện trên kệ

proposed /prəˈpəʊzd/ [B2] (adj): dự kiến, được đề xuất

reassurance /ˌriː.əˈʃɔː.rəns/ [C2] (n): sự trấn an

volatility /ˌvɒl.əˈtɪl.ə.ti/ (n): sự biến động

stranglehold /ˈstræŋ.ɡəl.həʊld/ (n): sự bóp nghẹt, sự siết chặt

forthcoming /ˈfɔːθˌkʌm.ɪŋ/ [B2] (adj): sắp tới, sắp ra mắt

deadpan /ˈded.pæn/ (a): làm bộ nghiêm túc (khi đang kể chuyện hài)

comic miserabilist: tác giả viết truyện tranh bi thương

duke it out: cạnh tranh

go saturation: đến với đại chúng, ở đây mang nghĩa được phát hành rộng rãi

unpredictable /ˌʌn.prɪˈdɪk.tə.bəl/ [B2] (adj): không thể dự đoán, không thể lường trước

sleeper hit: tác phẩm không được đánh giá cao nhưng bất ngờ ăn khách

sequel /ˈsiː.kwəl/ (n): phần hậu truyện

gross /ɡrəʊs/ (v): thu về tổng cộng

on the back of: với sự giúp sức của

crisis /ˈkraɪ.sɪs/ [B2] (n): cuộc khủng hoảng

sorely /ˈsɔː.li/ (adv): rất, cực kì

arthouse film: dòng phim nghệ thuật

sheer /ʃɪər/ [C1]: cực kì

infection rates: tốc độ lây nhiễm

fluctuate /ˈflʌk.tʃu.eɪt/ [C2] (v): biến động, dao động

resistance /rɪˈzɪs.təns/ [C2] (n): sự chống lại, sự kháng cự

video-on-demand: video theo yêu cầu (Netflix, YouTube, …)

a raft of: hàng loạt

collectively /kəˈlek.tɪ (adv): đều

stabilize /ˈsteɪ.bəl.aɪz/ (v): ổn định

premiere /ˈprem.i.eər/ (n): buổi công chiếu, ra mắt

wrapped /ræpt/ (adj): bị đóng bụi

wrinkle /ˈrɪŋ.kəl/ [C2] (n): nếp nhăn

in the interim: trong khoảng thời gian ấy

Picture of Dorian Gray: “Bức chân dung của Dorian Gray”

(Trong tác phẩm “Bức chân dung của Dorian Gray”, nhân vật chính là một chàng trai trẻ sẵn sàng bán rẻ linh hồn để giữ mãi tuổi xuân. Dorian sau hàng chục năm vẫn không hề già đi, tuy nhiên, nhan sắc thật của Dorian lại được lưu giữ qua bức hoạ chân dung của chính mình. Càng sa đọa, Dorian càng trẻ đẹp, bức họa càng tồi tàn …)

in reverse: trái ngược lại


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