Summer Blockbuster Season Is Here — Minus The Movie Theaters

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Moviegoers watch a preview in their socially distanced vehicles at Mission Tiki drive-in theater in Montclair, Calif., Thursday, May 28, 2020. California moved to further relax its coronavirus restrictions and help the battered economy. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)
Moviegoers watch a preview in their socially distanced vehicles at Mission Tiki drive-in theater in Montclair, Calif., Thursday, May 28, 2020. California moved to further relax its coronavirus restrictions and help the battered economy. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

The summer blockbuster movie season will be a bit different this year during the coronavirus pandemic. Theaters are out, streaming is in, and the drive-in has come back into vogue. We’ll go behind the curtain and help direct you to the best of what the silver screen has to offer in the coming months.


Shawn Edwards, film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City. Co-founder of the African-American Film Critics Association. (@sedwardskc)

Alissa Wilkinson, film critic and culture reporter for Vox. (@alissamarie)

Movies to Watch (At Home) This Summer

"Hamilton" (Disney Plus)

Shawn Edwards: “This is fantastic. This is what people want. I mean, once again, is providing the entire world access. Hamilton's a tremendous brand name. My mom knows what it is. You say ‘Hamilton,’ she knows what it is. My aunt knows, people's grandparents, kids. probably people's pets know what Hamilton is. I mean, Hamilton as a brand is larger than anything potentially opening theatrically later in the summer anyway… Now it's available for everyone to see.”

"Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Song" (Netflix)

Alissa Wilkinson: “I love this movie. I watched it twice, like before it dropped on Netflix because I loved it so much. It's ridiculous. Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are these Icelandic Eurovision hopefuls from this tiny town. And they're terrible, but they sort of accidentally end up in the finals for the Eurovision Song Contest. It's just a very silly film, with a brilliant performance by Dan Stevens. And I loved it. I think it does, for me, kind of epitomize what you're looking for from a summer comedy, which is very little investment and very kind of ridiculous premise.”

"Da 5 Bloods" (Netflix)

Alissa Wilkinson: “I think this is, for me so far, the film of the year. You know, we'll see what happens. But if I were picking Best Picture, this would probably be it. Spike is extremely good at figuring out how to connect history and the present in a sort of really engaging, funny, super dramatic, very action-packed and very moving narratives. And this has kind of all of his best work crammed into one movie with a really, really amazing set of performances, especially by Delroy Lindo.”

"The King Of Staten Island" (Amazon Prime)

Shawn Edwards: “I'm not a huge Pete Davidson fan because he really is an acquired taste, but I thought he was exceptional in this movie. I really like this movie a lot. I think this movie benefited from the pandemic. Once again, if this movie were released theatrically, I think it's the type of movie they would have gotten lost in the phenomenon of all the big summer blockbusters that would have been released around it. It definitely found an audience because people were shut in and looking for anything possible to watch. And once they caught on, they found they liked it.”

Interview Highlights

On why the summer blockbuster season isn’t going to happen this year

Shawn Edwards: “You cannot go to a movie theater and see anything new. Most of the major titles that were going to be released in the summer of 2020 immediately got pushed to 2021. That's how extreme things got. I mean, the summer movie going season got canceled mid-March. So it's been a while that the studios hit the panic button and like... take a movie like Fast Nine, Furious Nine. It's a huge, huge franchise. Universal Pictures, they were not going to take any chances with that movie. They immediately said, 'Hey, we're going to move this movie to 2021.' The main reason is because most of your summer blockbusters rely on a global box office. And most movie theaters around the world are still closed. So you can't produce these types of movies, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars in production costs and another hundreds of millions of dollars to market and advertise. They have to have a global box office to make all that money back. And you can't take a chance that your movie won't be seen in China because the movie theaters are closed or your movie won't be seen across Europe because all the movie theaters are closed or your movie won't be seen in North America because all the movie theaters are closed. You have to have every single solitary screen available for your movie in order to make the amounts of money that you need to make back in order for that movie to be considered a hit and be profitable.”

On the challenges that movie theaters face moving forward

Shawn Edwards: “Theater exhibitors were already worried about the increasing popularity of people watching content via streaming, which allows you to watch movies and TV shows and documentaries on your cell phone, on your laptop, on your tablet, at home. I mean, most people generally have some sort of flat screen in their home. So quality is not an issue, sound is not an issue, and access is no longer an issue. Also, another big factor because of the pandemic is. We're forming new habits, and habits are hard to break. I mean, people are getting used to streaming movies and streaming content at home. This is going to become part of the new norm. So the theatrical experience is in trouble and a lot of different fronts.”

On how the pandemic might help smaller theaters and indie films

Alissa Wilkinson: “Hollywood is a very risk-averse world, and the big theater chains are as well. They really have not innovated in a very long time. And I'm curious to see if it's actually the smaller, more nimble production companies and chains and artists who are able to adapt better. I think we're seeing a little bit of that here and there. I do think one of the biggest and most interesting things that's going to happen is that indie distributors are going to find that they now have ways to distribute their films across the country more easily digitally, instead of just restricting them to, you know, a couple of theaters in New York and L.A.. And I think that overall may be really, really good for cinema. But it's certainly not going to be without some huge pain points, too.”

Shawn Edwards: “I think that the local, smaller theaters are going to be the savior. I know here in Kansas City, a couple of local theaters have set up shop in their parking lot and they're showing movies outside because there's certain genres of film that require a communal experience, like horror movies just don't work when you stream them. They're better when you're in a communal environment. So you don't want the theatrical situation to go away completely and like I said. locally, a lot of people are doing a lot of things to try to, you know, keep it alive. And you've got to remember when you watch the end credits of every single movie ever made, those long lists of names you see, those are people currently not working.”

On the rising popularity of drive-in movies during the pandemic

Shawn Edwards: “People do want to experience movies on a big screen. And yes, you can social distance. The only problem with the drive-in experience is you're only going to get older films. So you do have to be in the mood for a little nostalgia. Because once again, you're faced with the challenge that none of the studios are going to release anything new because they just aren't gonna cater to the drive-in theater. But for right now, it's hot, it’s cute. People like it. I don't know how viable it is. I don't think it's going to save Hollywood during a pandemic, but it will save some local drive-in operators who can make a little money during the summer.”

On what makes a great summer movie

Alissa Wilkinson: “What a great summer movie is has changed over time. You know, blockbusters are a fairly recent invention. And so I was thinking that one of the things that I think makes for a real great summer blockbuster is that it's a little goofy. You know, you think about a movie like Jurassic Park or Jaws or Independence Day. You're not just going to, like, have a thrill and maybe be scared or or be excited and watch some explosions, it also is just like, a little bit silly. And I think that's really in keeping with what we're looking for in the summer from those movies is, we want to be entertained. We want to escape a little bit. But we also just want to laugh and sort of forget the seriousness of the world.”

From The Reading List

The New York Times: "The Future That Hollywood Feared Is Happening Now" — "The movie industry was already on a precipice. Did the pandemic just give it a push? With theaters shuttered all over the world and hundreds of millions of people ordered to stay at home, it’s unclear when the movie industry can resume business as normal, or even whether that 'normal' will look anything like Hollywood wants it to. Pivotal pieces of the film calendar — including the summer-blockbuster season and the year-end awards gantlet — have been thrown into disarray, and in their absence the gulf between streaming media and the theatrical experience may only widen further."

Vanity Fair: "Every Movie Release Date Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic" — "On March 4, No Time to Die — the fifth and final Bond film with Daniel Craig in the role of 007 — saw its release date pushed from April to November. Two weeks later, theaters across the U.S. were closed. That’s how quickly the coronavirus pandemic wiped out moviegoing this year, halting productions and forcing studios executives to boot their potential blockbusters off long-held and carefully programmed release dates."

Forbes: "Box Office: We Should Stop Pretending That We’re Going To Have A Summer Movie Season" — "Yes, it’s possible that Mulan and Tenet will stick to their new release dates, and that the films currently slated for July and August won’t be further delayed. At best, and I’m presuming that Sony’s rom-com The Broken Hearts Gallery won’t stay in its current July 17 slot, we’re going to get a single month of would-be 'summer movies.' For all intents and purposes, summer 2020 will start on July 31 with Unhinged and the tenth-anniversary reissue of Inception and will end on September 4 (Labor Day weekend) with Paramount PGRE’s A Quiet Place Part II."

The New York Times: "At the Drive-In: Thrills, Chills, Popcorn and Hand Sanitizer" — "In the end, it was the rain, not the virus, that drove some moviegoers to leave the drive-in theater here Friday as a storm interrupted the season’s first shows. Hours before, SUVs, sedans and pickup trucks had crunched along the gravel road leading to the Warwick Drive-In’s three screens, and then were directed to a grassy mound where they parked for the evening to watch the double features."

IndieWire: "What a Summer Season Without Big Blockbusters Means for Movie Lovers" — "With most theaters closed (and likely not opening any time soon), the usually tentpole-filled summer season is taking a different shape this year. For IndieWire’s critics, that means many things, from cinematic silver linings to questions about the future of the blockbuster landscape."

This article was originally published on July 02, 2020.

This program aired on July 2, 2020.


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Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.


Adam Waller Freelance Producer
Adam Waller is a freelance producer for On Point.



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