Goodbye 2021: Vaccinations, Variants, and Streaming

Sometimes once a year comes to an end, I like to close it out with a few thoughts on the year that is about to be behind us. Just last year, I spent a lot of my Goodbye 2020 article on the state of the film and movie theater industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it certainly seems like this edition of these New Year’s Eve articles will have to have a similar focus.

Because while I do think it’s possible to see a light at the end of the tunnel since most people are accepting the vaccines, it is also true that the world isn’t completely out of the woods yet (in part due to the various different variants of the contagious disease that has dictated our lives for a very long time now). But what has all of this meant for the aforementioned industries and, more broadly, the ‘movie year’ that was 2021? Well, let’s talk about that.

HBO Max and Warner Bros.

Last year, I ended my run-through of the state of the industry by questioning and criticizing Warner Bros. decision to release all of their major films in 2021 on HBO Max on the same day that they were to be released in theaters. I said that I don’t think the genie can go back in the bottle. I speculated that once moviegoing audiences would realize they could expect major motion pictures on their television screens immediately, they wouldn’t be as easily convinced to go out to the movies.

Now that the HBO Max day-and-date experiment is behind us — apparently Warner and HBO plan to release their 2022 films 45 days after they’ve each been shown in theaters — what conclusions can we draw? Well, I think in most cases it is fair to say that the experiment backfired.

Major films like The Matrix Resurrections ($12m in its North American opening weekend), In The Heights ($29m in North America in total), Wonder Woman 1984 ($46m in North America in total), and The Suicide Squad ($55m in North America in total) underperformed at the box office, and I doubt that they all brought in new subscribers to HBO Max.

The Warner/HBO Max success stories this year have to be Godzilla vs. Kong, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and Dune. All three of those films did well internationally and, under the circumstances of the global pandemic, their domestic earnings are also pretty impressive. Dune, one of my favorite films of the year, has already had its sequel greenlit, with Denis Villeneuve returning to direct, and Part Two will, indeed, be released in theaters (or, you know, at least for the first 45 days — unless Warner’s plans change).

Superhero Movies Prevailed

I think there was a hope that in 2021 movie theater attendance would return to normal, but that sense of normalcy that the theater industry hoped for didn’t exactly materialize. Although it was almost definitely a better year for movie theaters than 2020 was, it was still seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were regional lockdowns and, in general, a nervousness about returning to theaters, and, of course, the streaming focus didn’t help theaters out.

For a while, Disney still released some films on their PVOD service Disney+ with Premier Access until it was widely regarded that theaters were ‘safe to visit’ again. This meant that Black Widow was released in theaters and on PVOD at the same time. Later in the year, though, Disney and Sony’s superhero films were released in theaters like they were meant to, and they certainly thrived. While most box office results for films released this year had the added caveat that they would’ve been even more impressive if the films were not released during a pandemic, Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was only just released this December, performed incredibly well with one of the biggest opening weekends of all-time. It certainly seemed like moviegoing audiences were still interested in going to the movies in 2021 as long as they were showing superhero movies.

What About Denmark?

I do like to add a bit of a Danish update to these types of articles. So, let’s talk about Denmark. For Danes, the biggest cultural event of 2021 was, without a doubt, the UEFA European Championships of football, and it was quite a summer event. Denmark made it all the way to the Semi-final — the final four, as they might say in the States — beoree they were knocked out by England due, in part, to a controversial penalty decision. In the process, the Danish Men’s national team in football managed to unitee the entire country, and it was a truly magical tournament. It didn’t start that way, though.

The thing that I will probably remember the tournament for the most was that, in our very first match, Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch due to a sudden cardiac arrest. It was shocking and scary. The entire nation — the entire footballing world — held their breath as we waited for news about his condition. He was relatively quickly stabilized, he went through a successful operation, and then he left the hospital in good condition. We’re all still with you, Christian. Sending kind thoughts and love to him and his family.

What about the movie year in Denmark? Good question. Well, it’s been a little bit bumpy. Nordisk Film Cinemas, the largest theater chain in Denmark, decided to boycott all Disney films due to their Disney+ PVOD service, which means that several films from Disney, Searchlight and the rest of those studios were only released in very few theaters in 2021. Oh, and to add to that, Danish movie theaters were ordered to close their doors from mid-December to mid-January.

Some movies did become major success stories, though. The biggest Danish release this year was the animated sequel Ternet Ninja 2 (Checkered Ninja 2), while, I think, the major international release in Denmark was No Time to Die, which broke Danish Bond-records as it sold more than a million tickets.

As we now prepare to close the book on 2021, I want to send one last message out to all of you before we jump into 2022. Make good choices, be with the people you love, trust scientists, and follow health regulations. I wish you all a safe and happy new year! 2022 can be the great year that we want it to be. I love you all.

– Article Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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