The news came down earlier this week that is going to be fairly crushing for a certain segment of the moviegoing populace, but apparently, it was inevitable. The ninth installment in the Fast & Furious franchise has been pushed from its expected April 2019 release to one approximately 12 months later. Yes, yes, take a moment if you need to compose yourself. I understand how these things work. I, myself, had a momentary freakout a couple months back when I thought that Tom Cruise’s broken foot might push back the release of next year’s Mission: Impossible 6, but thankfully, that bullet was dodged and cooler heads prevailed.
Now, I’m not deeply affected by the delay of the Vin Diesel-Dwayne Johnson series (I’m actually on record about this), but I am interested in how the system is currently working, and that this delay means we are suddenly seeing a very crowded release schedule in 2020. I find this fascinating, simply because the studios continue to plan so far ahead, even while failing to understand that it is this very philosophy that is helping to kill their business. Staking out a release date with a specific title — or, as is often the case, an “Untitled Event Film Of Some Kind” — means that they have to reverse engineer a project to get there, manufacturing it to fill a date, rather than fostering something more organic that ultimately finds one naturally. This leads to continued complaints about quality, and that things like merchandising are more important than story. Continuing down this road, there doom awaits, but that doesn’t appear to be phasing anyone, much as it should.
But let’s stick with the Fast & Furious franchise for a moment. Pushing it back a year at this stage, months before the movie would even start shooting, is curious. F. Gary Gray helmed the last installment, and it was a rather large success, but he’s not returning to the director’s chair for some reason, which may or may not have to do with the difficulty of working with Diesel. This is also why, I would imagine, that it is still unclear whether or not Johnson is returning. Though his co-star Tyrese Gibson blamed him for the delay yesterday in an Instagram post, but more about that in a moment.
Justin Lin directed four of the installments, and Furious 7 director James Wan probably would have returned if he hadn’t taken the Aquaman gig for Warner Bros., so it is a little strange that Gray’s not coming back. With no other director yet hired, and it being a little hazy about whether or not there are writers officially hired to crack the story, it makes sense to push the thing, but something still has to happen with it, sooner rather than later. That said, we’re now supposed to be getting a Dwayne Johnson-Jason Statham Hobbs/Decker spinoff movie on July 26th, 2019, as Universal has apparently altered the space-time continuum to fit this into Johnson’s insane schedule, that includes shooting movies like Jungle Cruise, and Black Adam, as well as a new season of Ballers for HBO.
Assuming this happens, it means we’ll get an F&F fix of some kind before 2020, although Gibson’s inflammatory social media post suggests that this is not necessarily going to be a team effort, but rather a Hobbs-centric one (and, therefore, completely Johnson-centric), potentially even called Hobbs, which is a fairly provocative possibility that could leave a lot of other players in this little drama unhappy. An even more unfortunate result of this is that the 10th and final installment in the series will almost certainly be pushed, as well, from 2021 to at least 2022, if not a year beyond that.
Which, thankfully, brings us back to the reason why we’re talking about this in the first place, the increasingly crowded schedule slated for release more than two years from now. Yes, I just italicized those six words, because it’s amazing to me that, if you look at the schedule, there are literally 35 films set for release during that calendar year. Almost three dozen, and the bulk of them, as mentioned above, don’t even have titles yet. There are four Untitled DC films, six Untitled Marvel movies (three each from Fox and Disney), two Untitled Pixars, two Sony Pictures Animation Franchise films, three WB Event films, an Untitled Paramount/Nickelodeon Hybrid movie, and at least one Universal Event film, as well as at least four animated sequels (like Trolls 2, The Croods 2, Minions 2, and Sing 2), and no less than five other animated movies, with titles like Nimona, Loud House, Gigantic, and Vivo, with a film adaptation of the Fox TV series Bob’s Burgers thrown in for good measure. As if all that wasn’t enough, we’ve also got at least one Live Action Disney flick, a new Scooby Doo reboot, the highly anticipated (I suppose) Godzilla vs. Kong, and, of course, the long rumored, finally confirmed and obviously never to be moved again Avatar 2. James Cameron’s sequel will finally hit theaters 11 years after the first picture set every box office record there is, a move that really shows just how much confidence the director clearly has in both his audience and his own storytelling ability, and you can only admire that, even if you wonder about the wisdom.
Before you accuse me of forgetting something, I will also point out that, for some reason, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford are getting the band back together for one more stab at Indiana Jones, even though, on July 10th, the date it is scheduled for release, Ford will be three days shy of his 78th birthday. Considering how the last chapter of the Jones saga went, when he trundled off in search of Crystal Skulls, it’s entirely possible that this one will find him in search of a better golf score. Or arthritis medication. Either way, much as we love Spielberg around here, it might be in his best interest to hand the reins off to someone younger and hungrier, who could bring a fresh take to the material or at least instill some kind of much-needed urgency to it.
Tally it all up, and you’ve got 21 untitled movies, 14 titled ones (I include the Indiana Jones movie in this category, because the other untitled ones aren’t as specific about their subject matter), and no less than 14 of those, combined, are animated, and at least 10 are superhero-themed. I’m not sure which bothers me about this more, that only 40 percent of the projects on the slate actually have titles, or that a whopping 40 percent of the titles on the slate are cartoons. Regardless, I’m bothered. Perhaps I’m naive (wouldn’t be the first time), but I don’t ever remember it being this way, the planning so far ahead without any specific project or projects in mind for the chosen slots.
Take a look at the enormous list above, and you’ll see what amounts to a large dose of cynicism from the very studios that have scheduled the projects. It’s not even that they’re all in the summer, either — though at least one movie is now scheduled for most summer weekends through the first week of August. Really, this has become a chess game, in which each studio is staking its claim on a given day or weekend, regardless of whether or not they actually have a project in mind for that date. Remember, too, that this list will shuffle more than once between now and then, as one studio backs off a date or moves a movie up or back to take on or get away from a competitor.
It’s all a bit exhausting, and we’re too far ahead of this to be so tired. I take a look at this packed schedule and not only do I get frustrated with the way the studios are doing their business, it also occurs to me that 2020 is so overloaded and packed to the gills, the only thing missing from it is Barbara Walters.