In the past week, everything has changed.
Movie theatres are closed around the world, although some have begun reopening in countries like Japan. The weekend before the reality of the current crisis sunk in, the United States box office experienced its worst weekend in almost two decades. Movie studios have begun frantically moving releases around the calendar, some releases rescheduled for next year while others remain in limbo.
While most tentpole blockbusters are likely to be rescheduled, the studios have opted for another approach for smaller titles or titles already released in a depressed climate. Studios have begun routing their titles from the cinema directly onto streaming services, allowing those audiences who are self-isolating to enjoy relatively recent theatrical releases in the comfort of their home.
As ever, Disney led the way in this regard. Even before the situation properly escalated at the start of the week, they brought the digital release of The Rise of Skywalker back by a few days so families could have something to watch together. They also released the entire Skywalker Saga in 4K on digital, offering Star Wars fans young and old an excuse to revisit the franchise.
On Friday, Disney took the unprecedented move of releasing Onward on digital streaming only two weeks after it premiered in cinema. Onward might be comfortably mid-tier Pixar, but it demonstrates the strength of the studio’s core storytelling principles. It is perfect family viewing for those who might want a little charm and magic to get them through this stressful time.
Warner Bros. also moved some releases forward. Just Mercy floundered during awards season, so releasing it early isn’t too big a deal. The film is built from a familiar template, evoking those 1990s death row dramas like The Chamber or Dead Man Walking. However, there’s a lot to recommend as an updated template that reflects more modern understandings of systemic injustice.
This Tuesday, Warner Bros. will be releasing Birds of Prey early on digital. Despite a lot of armchair quarterbacking, the film has earned nearly $200M worldwide — even with a truncated theatrical run. Birds of Prey suffers slightly from an overly convoluted narrative style, but it features an engaging cast playing an endearing assemblage of misfits and benefits from a novel perspective on the genre.
The Way Back will also release on digital this week. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, The Way Back showcases actor Ben Affleck, who has recently consigned himself to supporting roles in Netflix fare like Triple Frontier and The Last Thing He Wanted. Affleck plays a recovering alcoholic finding his way to redemption, a narrative with obvious metatextual resonance. It is a lovely low-key drama.
The Vin Diesel superhero movie Bloodshot will also arrive on digital on Tuesday, just 11 days after it landed in theatres. It was intended to kickstart a shared cinematic universe based on Valiant Comics, but the viability of that prospect was in doubt even before the current crisis. I haven’t actually seen Bloodshot, as there was no local press screening. I will be watching it for the first time on Tuesday.
Perhaps the most confident approach to the crisis has been taken by Universal, who has made digital copies of three of its recent theatrical releases — Emma., The Invisible Man, and The Hunt — available to rent rather than purchase. This is an incredibly cynical move, as you can buy a copy of Onward or Birds of Prey for the same price you pay for a 48-hour rental of The Hunt.
In terms of recommendations, The Invisible Man is easily the best of the set. It is one of the best films of the year so far and comfortably the best mainstream release. Emma. is an enjoyable period romantic comedy that delivers exactly what is expected of it. The Hunt is perhaps enjoyable as a disposable B-movie, but it suffers from an unearned sense of self-importance.
Universal will also be releasing The Gentlemen ahead of schedule next Tuesday. Guy Ritchie’s latest feels like a cinematic midlife crisis, an effort to recapture some of the director’s dynamism from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch after years working on studio blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes or Aladdin. It does feature a good Hugh Grant performance, though.
It is also worth flagging some more specialist streaming services that are operating at the moment. The horror service Shudder is offering all new subscribers a 30-day free trial with the code SHUTIN. That should help pass at least some of the time for those trapped indoors at the moment. There is certainly no shortage of entertainment options available.
These are turbulent times, but these releases allow for some semblance of normality to endure. For the next few months, our living rooms and bedrooms may also have to be our cinemas. Take care out there, of yourselves and each other.
Most of the titles mentioned in this piece are available for digital download from the usual providers — VUDU, Fandango, Amazon Prime, the Google Store, the Microsoft Store, YouTube, iTunes. It is also notable that companies like Disney, Warner Bros., Sony and Universal all subscribe to Movies Anywhere, meaning that any of their movies purchased on one platform can be watched on any other supported platform.