Mid-Summer Blockbusters and a Peak at What’s Ahead

By Amit Jagwani  | 

Despite concerns about rising coronavirus infection rates caused by the contagious Delta variant, movie theaters around the country are continuing their reopening efforts. Films that were successfully screened at rescheduled festivals are finding favor with both critics and audiences. And streaming services are continuing their show of dominance when it comes to attracting entertainment-hungry fans. With summer well underway, here’s a peek at what to watch, where to catch it—and upcoming flicks to get excited for.

Theater Debuts
Director M. Night Shyamalan’s newest thriller, Old, tells the story of a tropical dream vacation turned nightmare when a family finds a beach that accelerates the aging process, diminishing their lives down to a single day. The Universal Pictures film grossed $6.8 million from 3,355 theaters on opening night, July 23, and was poised to top domestic box office charts with over $15 million in net sales. That’s a nice feather in Shyamalan’s cap, marking the seventh of his films to debut at number one.

Jungle Cruise sailed into cinemas a week later, earning a hot $2.7 million during pre-premiere, Thursday-night preview screenings. The family-friendly adventure starring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson is based on the beloved Disney World attraction and tells the story of two World War 1 explorers who find a tree with remarkable healing powers. Opening weekend rounded sales to $35 million domestically.

Film Festival Premieres
Critics are hailing Matt Damon as an actor at the top of his game in Stillwater, which debuted at July’s Cannes Film Festival. The Focus Features drama is loosely based on the 2007 case of Amanda Knox, the American woman who was wrongly convicted of killing her roommate and later exonerated by Italian courts after serving four years in prison. Writer-director Tom McCarthy spent a decade starting, abandoning and evolving this project, which depicts Damon as an Oklahoma oil rigger fighting for his daughter’s release from a Marseille jail, where she’s sentenced after the murder of her lover. After earning $1.84 million in 2,531 theaters during its debut, it scored a spot in the weekend’s overall top 10 premieres.

Though originally slated for a 2020 opening, The French Dispatch debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is set for a mid-October stateside theatrical release. Director Wes Anderson has garnered a cult-like following of devoted fans thanks to his highly stylized cinematic hits (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom), and this latest offering may be his most rarified yet. A star-studded ensemble cast including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and more tell the story of an American newspaper operating from a fictional 20th-century French town.

Cinemas and Streaming
While studios grapple with the ongoing dilemma of how to release titles—exclusively in theaters, straight to streaming or via a hybrid model—at least one company is facing backlash for their choice. Disney was reproached by the National Association of Theatre Owners after releasing Black Widow on Disney Plus at the same time as its theatrical debut.  Scarlett Johansson, the film’s lead, sued the studio for the simultaneous premieres, calling it a contract breach. Still, more upcoming blockbusters are set to hit both streamers and cinemas in the coming months, starting with Dune. Director Denis Villeneuve’s (Blade Runner) adaptation of the classic Frank Herbert book follows antihero Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) on an epic sci-fi quest as he fights evil forces (including giant human-eating sandworms) to ensure his people’s survival on Dune, the universe’s most dangerous planet. Warner Bros. Pictures will simultaneously premiere the thriller October 22 in both theaters and on HBO Max, despite protests from the director.

Finally, look for the fourth installment of The Matrix franchise on December 22, seven months later than the originally scheduled May 21 release that got pushed due to pandemic interruptions. Though plot details—and title—remain one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets, the cyberpunk sequel will feature Keanu Reeves reprising his role as messianic figure Neo, accompanied by returning love interest Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), despite the fact that both characters died at the end of the third film, Matrix Revolutions. Director Lana Wachowski’s offering will premiere both in theaters and on HBO Max, but couch-watchers must act fast as it will only stream for 31 days.

After a year of shutdowns and solitude, many Americans are ready to resume normal life by catching blockbuster flicks in theaters or at home with friends. And studios are doing their part by delivering the entertainment. Here’s to many hours of happy viewing.

Amit Jagwani
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