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Weekend Movie Takeaway: Drive-In Box Office Numbers are In!

May 26, 2020
3 min read time

As we enter an ambiguously defined period of the COVID-19 crisis—where all the talk surrounding the States “opening up” doesn’t necessarily mean we’re observing “life as we knew it” again—the situation continues to impact screen narrative in a variety of notable ways.

Last week’s big narrative-centric news was that the 2021 Oscar® ceremony is likely to be postponed. We discussed in this space several weeks ago how the rule changes (most notably, allowing streaming movies into the race) would affect next year's ceremony, but a delayed awards show is even more seismic.

It remains unclear as yet as to how long the delay would be, and if it would mean that films released in early 2021 (potentially after a vaccine makes macro movie-going more viable once again) would be factored in. We must even consider the possibility that an Oscar ceremony may not happen next year at all.

The level of importance we, as a society, place upon the Academy Awards speaks to the central role of screen narrative in our culture and how a delayed ceremony is a key indicator of just how much filmmaking has suffered in the pandemic. It's a suffering secondary to all the actual human suffering of course, but it's nevertheless worth noting. The silver screen offers us an escape of sorts, and when there’s no content left to escape to, where does that leave us?

On the other hand, the people behind the famously contrarian Venice Film Festival insist that their event in the film calendar will go ahead as planned in August, but that view can't help but feel extremely optimistic. A lot of Oscar films get their buzz started at the Venice Film Festival, so the prospect that it will go ahead as scheduled feels out of step with the news about the ceremony.

Additionally, a lot of the press generated by Venice premieres is driven by the presence of big stars at the festival, and again, it seems unrealistic to picture said celebrities being happy to fly to Italy so soon.

In some interesting news from the complete opposite end of the narrative spectrum to the Oscars, the COVID crisis has given drive-in theaters a small resurgence in popularity by breathing life back into the retro movie-going experience, as it’s currently the only way to see movies on the big screen in a manner that feels safe.

It also means that there are actual box office numbers coming in, and one film has been at the top of those numbers for three weeks now: the scrappy, Michigan-shot horror The Wretched.

It's a film that during “normal” times would almost definitely not have received as much press as it is getting for being number one (with an asterisk) three weeks in row. As we’ve mentioned before though, one of the creatively welcome effects of the lock-down has been how it is platforming certain screen narratives that would otherwise have received little attention.

So as talk continues about how Hollywood productions can get up and running again, two famous purveyors of cinematic narrative are proposing innovative (or risky?) projects in the name of getting big screen storytelling, well, back up on the big screen.

Michael Bay, the director behind splashy films such as Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and the Transformers series, is producing a pandemic-themed film that will shoot in pandemic-ravaged Los Angeles in just a month's time. The exact nature of how they will work around the current restrictions is still unclear. Precedents such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity are being cited, which can only mean one thing in terms of narrative style: found footage. Which seems achievable.

Movie magnate Jason Blum (of horror hit factory Blumhouse) has announced a new film as well, that will be shot entirely on the Universal backlot in an effort to contain any potential contamination.

Although the risks are still present to the degree that insurance coverage is unlikely for the production, the apparent idea is for the film to test the waters with a relatively low budget ($6.5 million) and for Universal to bear the risks of the undertaking.

Blumhouse is a company famous for stretching the dollar and spinning commercial gold out of constrained circumstances, so Blum seems like the right person to be taking this first step into what could very well constitute a more common model for screen narrative going forward.

If Oscars has the ®, does the first Academy Awards reference need it as well, even though they’re the “same”?

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