How Long Will Studios Rely on Video on Demand to Keep Hollywood Afloat?

Coming soon to an on-demand platform near you: a ton of 2020 movies.

In the rare event that you haven’t heard, you should probably cancel your next trip to your local movie theater. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, most theaters across the nation — including leading chains such as AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas — have closed.

To keep Hollywood afloat, studios have adjusted their approach. For instance, Universal is taking this opportunity to experiment with a simultaneous theatrical and on-demand release for Trolls: World Tour. But the new standard industry response has been for studios to send all major 2020 movies to home release as soon as possible.

Jim Carrey at a 'Sonic The Hedgehog' screening
Jim Carrey at a ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ screening | Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

The spring 2020 movies have left the schedule

Due to the widespread closure of most major movie theaters, all major releases through mid-May 2020 have been shelved until as late as 2021. While films like A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, and Black Widow will still release theatrical releases at some point, they’ve been taken off the schedule for the time being.

Similarly, Universal’s Fast and Furious 9 — which was set for an April 2020 debut — has been pushed a full year to spring 2021. Even Warner Bros. considered a video on demand release for its big June release, Wonder Woman 1984. Ultimately, the studio decided against that approach. But citizens who are remaining safely at home will still have plenty of 2020 movies to watch.

Most 2020 movies will be available by the end of March

Disney made headlines by sending Frozen II to Disney+ much sooner than normal. The company even released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to digital ahead of schedule. Since then, several studios have released major releases from the first quarter of 2020 to video on demand services earlier than normal. These 48-hour rentals are largely available for $19.99 each.

For instance, Disney itself released its latest Pixar film, the fantasy adventure Onward, to digital platforms mere weeks after its theatrical release. Moreover, the film hits Disney+ on April 3. Also, Universal made headlines by releasing current theatrical releases The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma to on-demand services in late March.

Then, Warner Bros. follows suit on March 24 with the digital release of The Gentlemen, Birds of Prey, and The Way Back. That same day, Universal and Sony release Dolittle and Bloodshot, respectively. Then the year’s two biggest hits — Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog — hit digital on March 31.

When will theaters be back in business?

Even as Hollywood adapts to the coronavirus pandemic, we have no clue how long this shutdown will go on. With productions halted and schedules cleared, the entertainment industry is dealing with unprecedented circumstances here. These video on demand releases may tide fans over for now, but eventually, Hollywood will have to decide how to move forward.

With any luck, this temporary delay will only derail the movie business for a few months at most. But because so much is unclear, no one can say how the rest of 2020 and beyond will play out. But one thing is certain. The effects aren’t limited to just 2020 movies. The entertainment industry might have to adjust to a new normal, especially as movie theaters suffer.