Already, some upcoming films have had their release plans modified as a result of the SAG-AFTRA strike. The Helen Mirren drama “White Bird” and A24’s Julio Torres comedy “Problemista” were supposed to launch in August and are now without an official release date, while “Challengers,” a tennis romance starring Zendaya, on Friday abdicated its prestigious slot as the opening-night title at the Venice Film Festival, which begins Aug. 30. That film, like the Emma Stone comedy “Poor Things,” had been set for theatrical release in September in order to capitalize on a starry press push at Venice. Now “Challengers” has moved to April 2024, according to Deadline.
Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival will announce their full lineups next week, and though those slates have the chance to build on the movie-loving momentum offered by “Barbenheimer” weekend, many wonder if they’ll be lacking the starry prestige titles studios normally send there. “If ‘Oppenheimer’ were a fall movie and I was taking it to Toronto, I think we’d probably at this point have decided not to take it,” said that film’s awards strategist, Tony Angelotti, citing the cost of reserving travel and lodging for the cast and makers of a major movie: “Would they refund your money if the strike continues?”
While Hollywood braces itself for the next strike-related shoe to drop, Scott Sanders is feeling an unwelcome case of déjà vu. As one of the producers of a new movie-musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” Sanders has spent months poring over a meticulous release strategy for the Fantasia Barrino-led film, due in theaters on Christmas Day. But all of that hard work could be dashed if Warner Bros. delays the movie, as it did three years ago with another Sanders-produced musical: “In the Heights” was pushed a full year to June 2021 because of the pandemic, and then released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.
Sanders said the studio has assured him that, so far, no discussions have been had about bumping “The Color Purple” into 2024. Still, he said, “If the other big tentpole holiday movies or awards-bait films start to shift, frankly, I’m going to be nervous.” He added, “The optimist in me thinks we have six or seven more weeks before we have to start taking Pepto Bismol.”
The hype around “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” could rekindle a love for moviegoing, Sanders said, but there might be few titles left to capitalize on it. “Are we going to keep the momentum going from this weekend?” he said. “Or are we going to suddenly pull the emergency stop in the next month or two and go back to square one again?”
If that cord is pulled, it will have a significant ripple effect. Theaters that are barely back from the brink since the pandemic would be tested once again, while the films that were already dated for 2024 might be forced to free up space. And without the usual influx of year-end prestige films, this year’s awards season could look very different — and, in another way, all-too-familiar.
“Worst-case scenario, every studio on the planet decides to move their fourth-quarter movies into next year,” Sanders mused. “Suddenly, the last contenders for awards are ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer.’ Then what happens?”