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How a WGA strike could upend theatrical release schedule as studios and exhibits celebrate box office boom – CinemaCon

In a week when distributors and exhibitors gather for their annual CinemaCon in Las Vegas and celebrate the post-pandemic box office upsurge, the film industry is also bracing for a potential Writers Guild of America strike. .

With production and deal-making slowing – especially with 98% of WGA West and WGA East members authorizing a strike if a new fair film/TV deal is not met before the May 1st deadline – how could that hurt the box office boom? A Gower Analytics project will gross around $32 billion worldwide, up 24% from last year, and $9 billion dollars in the United States, up 200%?

Just as the majority of exhibitors are getting back on their feet financially after the big Covid shutdown in 2020-21, studio sources described a worst-case scenario to Deadline should the WGA strike drag on for more than four months.

In short, the theatrical release schedule would see several date changes for the pictures, starting in the fourth quarter of this year. While the 2024 theatrical release schedule remains pretty much intact in its first six months with completed films coming through the pipeline, beyond that it gets squishy; it’s under this scenario that studios may need to pull out of Q4 2023.

RELATED: CinemaCon 2023 – Full Deadline Coverage

Such a consequence of a possible strike is not as dramatic as it would be for television production, which will feel it more immediately. Be aware that the longest strike ever recorded by the WGA was the 1988 strike (March 7 to August 7), which lasted 153 days, followed by the 1960 strike of 146 days (January 16 to June 10 ), then from the 2007-08 strike (November 5, 2007-February 17, 2008) to 100 days.

There’s another catch: with SAG-AFTRA’s contract expiring on June 30, whether this union strike would prevent actors from advertising their feature film or TV projects (negotiations begin with AMPTP on June 7 ).


Universal images

How does this shake the last tent poles of summer, that is, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning – Part One (July 14th), Oppenheimr and Barbie (July 21) and Haunted house (July 28) among others? The good news for the exhibit is that tentpole release dates are popular stepping stones for film studios, so they’re not likely to give up on them easily. Therefore, no movement among the major titles is expected this summer. Still, studio and distribution marketing executives remain in wait-and-see mode. On the other hand, small films that depend on advertising are the first to pivot in the event of a SAG-AFTRA strike. Last weekend, the SAG-AFTRA National Board voted unanimously to approve a resolution “strongly in favor” of the WGA in its ongoing talks with the AMPTP.

The Covid shutdown of the show has forced a losing streak for studios and circuits. With most major box office capitals like Los Angeles and New York shut down by health officials, studios have continually pushed their tents – read Black Widow, F9, No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Jurassic World, Dominion, The Marvels And Creed III – deeper into the 2021-2023 calendar. Many circuits are still feeling the sting, with Cineworld and its American sister chain trying to climb out of bankruptcy.

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in


Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. Principle provided hope of getting all remaining theaters open in August 2020; the picture’s lackluster performance ($58.5 million domestic) only proved that LA and NYC were vital for studios to bank on a high-priced film. When no time to die left Thanksgiving 2020, causing other movies to change, Cineworld boss Mooky Greidinger closed the nation’s No. 2 channel, Regal, in response to the lack of tent poles on the schedule. The domestic box office fell off a cliff amid shutdowns and a lack of headlines, dropping 81% between 2019 ($11.4 billion) and 2020 ($2.2 billion), with a rebuild progressive in 2021 (4.5 billion dollars, +105%).

But really, could a strike create as much pain for the theatrical release schedule as the pandemic did? It is not excluded, according to the sources, that a WGA strike lasts more than four to six months. The schedule could be further exacerbated if the Directors Guild decides to strike for an extended period of time; that guild’s contract also expires on June 30, with negotiations scheduled for May 10. Note that the DGA only went on strike once, in 1987, when DGA West stopped work for 15 minutes and DGA East for 3 hours and 15 minutes.

As the pandemic has forced studios to sell big titles to streaming (i.e. Paramount with Coming 2 America and Skydance tomorrow’s war at Amazon Prime, MRC Lovebirds to Netflix), it’s conceivable that we could see a reverse trend now that Covid fears have subsided among those who frequent cinemas: in a market impacting the strike, studios could take a film intended for streaming and move it to the room schedule to fill in the gaps.

It has been reported that streamers can hold their ground in contract negotiations with guilds for a few months given their product supply, not to mention that this is an opportunity to cut bloated expenses, shape cash flow, and kill bad business. Movie studios can also save millions by shutting down production for a profit quarter. However, a delay in the feature delivery pipeline is also not good for business. Not to mention that a delay in production could potentially cause another post-production stall, one of the consequences of film postponements during the pandemic. This left the late August-October 2022 box office and the start of winter this year a dry bed for the product. In fact, we’re still waiting for pandemic-delayed films to hit theaters, including those from Warner Bros./DC. flash, which will get its first screening here at CinemaCon on Tuesday night, and Aquaman and the lost kingdom December 20.

‘I’m a legend’

Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

During the WGA’s 100-day strike of 2007-08, several blockbusters met their release dates during this period, since dates are a precious commodity. These titles included Will Smith’s I’m a legend ($77.2M opening, a record only for an original film debut, $256.3M domestic), Alvin and the Chipmunks ($44.3M, $217.3M) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets ($44.7 million, $219.9 million), while 2008 rang in the JJ Abrams produced film Cloverfield ($40 million) and Katherine Heigl’s romantic comedy 27 Dresses ($23M opening $76.8M). 2008 also saw huge tentpoles hit their key dates: Marvel Studios’ Iron Man (May 2nd), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22) and the dark knight (July 18).

At the time, tentpoles destined for 2009 that were rushing to start production on March 1, 2008 for several studios were greatly affected. The 2007-08 strike prompted studios to abandon expensive or half-baked projects. One of the most prolific features to be dropped was a version directed by Warner Bros/DC’s George Miller. Justice League with Adam Brody as The Flash and at the time fresh-faced actors Armie Hammer as Batman and Megan Gale as Wonder Woman. Although Australian tax breaks were a hindrance at the time, Warners wanted to polish Kieran and Michele Mulroney’s script, which was not possible due to the strike. The studio let the cast options expire.

Superman and James Gunn

James Gunn and ‘Superman’


An upcoming feature film production sheltering itself from a long WGA strike is that of James Gunn Superman: Legacy, which is slated for a 2024 debut for a July 11, 2025 theatrical release. comics. Gunn showed off coverage of the script on social media and announced the start of pre-production earlier this week, with “costumes, production design and more in place.” Safran is set to take the stage at Warner Bros.’ CinemaCon presentation on Tuesday, while Gunn, who is on a world tour for Disney/Marvel Studios Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, will appear by video.

RELATED: Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav To Take The Stage At CinemaCon In A Rare Appearance For A Conglom Boss


Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Another delayed tent pole from the 2007-08 strike was the Ron Howard-directed adaptation of Dan Brown Angels; the release date for this photo has been pushed back from Christmas 2008 to May 15, 2009. Michael Mann’s Salt by Edwin A. with Tom Cruise turned into a spy action title Salt starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Phillip Noyce. The film finally surfaced in July 2010. Both were huge hits for Sony, grossing $486 million and $293 million worldwide, respectively.

However, haste is wasteful, and when studios rush production on key projects due to the strike, bad apples result. This was the case in 2007-2008 for Rob Marshall’s musical Nine ($54 million WW, cost $80 million) and Will Ferrell’s remake of the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost ($68.8M WW, cost $100M), who were both critical and financial misfires. Although there was no strike in 2001, the anticipation of a strike by studios led to a slew of undercooked titles, including The Truth About Charlie, Reign of Fire And Dark blue.

Penélope Cruz in “Nine”

Weinstein Company/courtesy Everett Collection

“We haven’t had any discussions at our guild meetings about the labor issue,” outgoing National Association of Theater Owners president and CEO John Fithian told Deadline in an exit interview recently. , seeking to put exhibition partners at ease.

“We are hopeful and optimistic that quick and fair solutions for all parties will be found,” Fithian added.

Even though feature writers have laid out their wishes in the WGA’s model requests, many film executives believe the latest round of talks boils down to what’s vital for streaming and TV scribes. But following a difficult pandemic, rebounding theater activity could be hit again.

Exclaimed an optimistic cast executive, “The hope is that the cooler heads prevail.”

Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report.

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