Movie Studios Hold Back Major Releases as Theaters Stay Empty

September 22, 2020

On August 27th, Warner Bros. began gradually releasing the movie Tenet in theaters that had been closed for months due to the pandemic. After more than two weeks on American screens, though, the $200 million film has only earned $29.5 million domestically. As a result, Hollywood studios may hold back on releasing major titles until audiences are ready to return. “You can’t do it. The economics won’t allow you to do it,” said one studio executive. “We can’t give [theaters] a $200 million movie if people aren’t going to come.”

For years now, Hollywood has depended heavily on a “blockbuster model” of making big-budget movies that then go on to earn a ton of money globally. From Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises to Fast and the Furious and Jurassic Park at Universal, studios will invest $150 million to $200 million on a single title in order to make more than $1 billion on total box office sales. But with only two-thirds of American theaters currently open and audiences largely unwilling to attend, many entertainment companies can’t earn enough money to justify releasing these movies on a wide scale. 

“You can’t blame a studio or director for holding back the release of a film,” said theater owner Paul Glantz. “You’ve got to have enough theaters open throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world to ensure you get the proper audience exposure.” After Tenet failed to impress at the box office, Warner pushed the release of Wonder Woman 1984 back to Christmas while announcing that other titles could face similar delays. Meanwhile, MGM plans to release the new James Bond movie in November according to schedule since it is banking on international theaters to carry the film, not U.S. exhibitors. 


  1. Why are movie studios pushing back the release of major titles like Wonder Woman 1984
  2. Do you think Hollywood should reconsider its “blockbuster model” and make more movies with smaller budgets? Why or why not?

Source: R.T. Watson, “Hollywood Blockbusters’ New Supervillain: Empty Seats,” The Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2020.