Hollywood studios are grappling with the challenges posed by an ongoing strike led by unionized actors, resulting in the removal of several big-budget movies from the highly anticipated 2023 release calendar. This unforeseen predicament not only imperils theaters but also leaves devoted fans undoubtedly disappointed.
Last Friday, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced the postponement of two major films that were initially slated to hit theatres before the year’s end. These films include the Marvel Comics-based “Kraven the Hunter” and the sequel to “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” In addition to the 2023 releases, Sony has decided to delay some of its significant films scheduled for 2024. For instance, “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse,” previously set for a March premiere, and a new “Karate Kid” installment, planned for June, are no longer on track for their designated release dates.
While the actors’ strike, which commenced on July 14, has left the 2023 theatrical release schedule relatively unscathed so far, other major studios are likely to follow Sony’s lead. Warner Bros. is currently deliberating whether to postpone “Dune: Part Two,” originally slated for a November 3 release. Additionally, other highly anticipated 2023 holiday-season movies such as “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a superhero sequel, and “The Color Purple,” an adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, could also face potential delays.
Interestingly, the studios are not hindered by a lack of striking actors on set, as most of the affected films are already completed or nearing completion. The studios’ primary concern lies in the absence of stars to promote these films.
During the ongoing strike, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) has strictly forbidden its members from engaging in any publicity efforts for finished films and TV shows. This means no red carpet appearances, no social media posts, no interviews on morning news shows, and no participation in newspaper or magazine articles to create buzz around the projects.
As a result of the publicity ban, Searchlight Pictures, an art house studio, has recently postponed the release of “Poor Things,” a surreal science-fiction romance starring Emma Stone as a Frankenstein-like monster. The film will now debut in December instead of the previously scheduled September. Similarly, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has pushed back the release of “Challengers,” a sports drama with elements of sensuality, starring Zendaya, from September to April due to the strike.
SAG-AFTRA has expressed its willingness to continue the strike until the following year to negotiate better pay from streaming services and seek protections around artificial intelligence and other benefits. As negotiations between the union and the studios are yet to be scheduled, approximately 11,500 movie and television writers are also participating in the strike.
The repercussions of the actors’ strike are troubling for the movie theater industry, which has only recently shown signs of recovery from the pandemic-induced downturn. The consistent flow of big movies is deemed critical for the industry’s health, as moviegoers are often drawn to theaters by enticing trailers for upcoming releases. The pandemic substantially reduced the supply of movies, leading to the closure of numerous theaters. According to a report by the Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the National Association of Theater Owners, the United States and Canada lost 2,220 movie screens between 2019 and 2023, with only 42,063 screens remaining. Additionally, Cineworld, the parent company of the Regal chain, has been operating under bankruptcy for almost a year.
While Cineworld expects to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization by the end of this month, a new threat looms if the union walkouts continue into September. The 2024 release calendar could also suffer, as several movies slated for release next year had to halt production due to the actors’ strike. To meet their intended release dates in 2024, cameras need to start rolling again promptly.
Despite the current challenges, the 2024 release calendar appears more packed than ever. Sony’s updated lineup for 2024 includes highly anticipated titles such as the Marvel Comics-based “Madame Web” (February), the sequel to “Ghostbusters” (March), a follow-up to “Bad Boys” (June), a “Venom” sequel (July), “Kraven the Hunter” (August), and a new “Karate Kid” installment (December). Notably, the animated sequel “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse,” a continuation of the successful “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which grossed $677 million worldwide earlier this year, is yet to receive a new release date.