Thanks to coronavirus, 'Avengers' could be 2020's biggest movie

Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo
Marvel Enterprises/Kobal/Shutterstock

As almost every movie set to release in the coming months drops off the schedule or postpones, it becomes more difficult to imagine what the summer movie season could look like. Things will certainly not just go back to normal, especially if the catastrophic plan to re-open the economy by Easter moves forward. China is much further ahead in its efforts to tame the outbreak, so it could also predict what the American entertainment industry’s recovery might look like.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, China’s movie theaters will be re-releasing old blockbusters in the coming days and weeks to keep the doors open. All four Avengers movies, Avatar, and a pair of Christopher Nolan blockbusters — Inception and Interstellar — are set to return to theaters as a sort of pilot program. Major studios are reasonably wary to release event films to a moviegoing base that still isn’t convinced it can safely leave the house in large numbers.

This paints a feasible future for American movie theaters in the coming months, as almost every major release clears out of the summer schedule. Wonder Woman: 1984, which was set for June 5, has already moved to August 14. In the Heights was scheduled for a late June release, but has also been shuttled to August. Many of the summer’s remaining major releases, like Pixar’s Soul, Top Gun: Maverick, and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, are still fixed to the schedule for June and July, although that could very well change by the week. This leaves a vacuum of new releases, should society go the way of China and open up in May or June rather than late summer.

This is why I’m a little skeptical of the broader demise of theaters, when there will likely be demand for any sort of safe public gathering when the outbreak reduces. The theaters that can survive a month or two of closures will be able to show just about anything upon returning, as long as consumers are confident in public safety measures, such as reduced seating in theaters.

China has already found success with bringing back old favorites, evidenced by recent re-releases of Titanic in 3D and Spirited Away that notched $145 million and $69 million respectively. That may be a tougher sell in the states, since streaming services are far more prevalent and users are more inclined to opt for what’s free and immediately available. But when people have already been driven to previously unthinkable and insufferable acts like saying the pledge of allegiance or singing on their lawn, you can’t count out the allure of old movies.

While it’s sort of eerie to imagine theaters reopening to Marvel marathons and the biggest movies of all time after months without business, it could be just the thing to ease people back into seeing movies off their couch. I don’t want to imagine a world where Avatar and The Avengers are the highest grossing movies of the year again, but for now at least, it doesn’t seem like the strangest thing that could happen.