A Delay For ‘No Time To Die’ Would Present A Challenge For ‘Mission: Impossible 7’
Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise
Paramount, MGM and Paramount
Six years ago, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation moved like, well, Thunderball, and opened five months earlier than planned. If No Time to Die gets delayed again, the Tom Cruise actioner might want to consider pulling off the impossible for a second time.
According to Deadline, The Playlist and everyone with their finger on the pulse of the industry, there’s a very good chance that No Time to Die will face another theatrical delay. It was the first major blockbuster to flee its initial 2020 release date (from April 10 to November 20) due to Covid 19. Its second delay (to April 2, 2021) kick-started a wave of post-Tenet blockbuster delays that (partially due to New York theaters failing to reopen) ended any hope for a conventional end-of-year theatrical moviegoing season. The 25th official James Bond movie has become a kind of “canary in the coal mine.”
While Sony was first to jump ship this year, moving Jared Leto’s Morbius from March 19 to October 8, and WB just moved The Many Saints of Newark to September 24, the one unmitigated biggie dropping between now and summer is on the precipice of another delay. Conventional wisdom suggests that MGM’s 007 action thriller, helmed by Cary Fukunaga and again starring Daniel Craig (for the fifth and presumably final time), will vacate from its early April slot (Easter weekend and where Universal has found massive success with Fast & Furious, Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious) and opt for a mid-November debut.
Back when Danny Boyle was in the director’s chair, the film was scheduled for November 8, 2019, right in line with where every Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig 007 movie (save for Brosnan’s Tomorrow Never Dies in Christmas 1997) has debut since GoldenEye was pushed from summer 1995 to November 1995. I’d argue MGM and Universal (who is distributing the film overseas) were so quick to initially move No Time to Die partially because it allowed them to take their preferred November slot without the bad press of “We delayed this film from November 2019 to November 2020.”
However, there’s one wrinkle in repeating this otherwise logical play, which is that Mission: Impossible 7 is slated for November 17, 2021. Not to pick at old wounds, but opening “James Bond 25” concurrently or almost concurrently with “Ethan Hunt 7” makes about as much sense as opening Batman v Superman on the same day as Captain America: Civil War. However, there’s no law saying No Time to Die can’t open against Tom Cruise’s other Paramount/Skydance biggie, the currently-slated-f0r-July Top Gun: Maverick.
Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun sequel was original slated for June of 2019 before it was pushed back (to June 26, 2020 and then December 23, 2020 and now July 1, 2021) due to pandemic-related challenges. While there are some similarities, like both being male-centric, old-school, star+character-driven action flicks, they could theoretically coexist at least as well as Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($791 million in July of 2018) and The Meg ($530 million in August of 2018) if they both opened in November. But what then would become of Mission: Impossible 7?
Well, “conventional wisdom” would suggest that it gets delayed to July of 2022, and presuming all parties can wait there’s no harm in that. But the last time a Christopher McQuarrie-directed Mission: Impossible movie got supplanted by a super-duper tentpole, they moved not backward but forward. Once upon a time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was set for May of 2015 while Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was set for December of 2015.
Both slots made sense, as Star Wars all-but-invented the modern summer blockbuster (and Memorial Day weekend monster) while Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was a massive hit opening over Christmas in 2011 ($209 million domestic from a $13.5 million IMAX-only debut and $692 million worldwide). But then Disney and Lucasfilm gave J.J. Abrams the time he wanted, and The Force Awakens was moved to the prime pre-Christmas December date.
DreamWorks Animation and Fox’s Kung Fu Panda 3 moved to January 2016 to become the biggest global grosser ever ($543 million) released in January, while Rogue Nation moved *up* to July 31, 2015. Rogue Nation moved at warp speed, even with time off to rework the ending, and had finished principal photography by March 15, 2015. It was “locked” on July 18, 2015, less than two weeks before the July 31, 2015 release date. The film earned strong reviews (I’d argue that it’s the best Mission: Impossible movie) and earned best-case-scenario box office with $195 million domestic and $682 million worldwide.
Since Pixels (opening the week before) and Fantastic Four (opening the week after) landed with respective thuds, Rogue Nation ran the tables as the last baggie of the summer. Can McQuarrie, Cruise and company can pull off the impossible (nailed it) twice? We could see a situation where Top Gun: Maverick moves to November (alongside Eternals and, theoretically, No Time to Die) and Mission: Impossible 7 moves to July alongside Venom: There Will Be Carnage and Shang-Chi.
There are a number of theoretical variables in this situation, including one big one with Paramount and Skydance’s other big 2021 tentpole, Chris McKay’s The Forever War. The big-budget, original sci-fi actioner, about humanity losing ground against an alien invasion and recruiting soldiers from the past to help turn the tide, may get sold to Amazon for around $200 million. Until theatrical marketplaces return to “normal,” I’d argue any non-IP/non-franchise/non-guaranteed theatrical smash (especially from Sony, Paramount, Lionsgate, etc.) is a coin toss in terms of being sold to a streamer.
If the Chris Pratt-starring sci-fi action fantasy, the kind of “not based on anything” biggie that would have been a challenging sell in better times, ends up as a streaming debut, then leaves its July 23, 2021 up for grabs. If The Tomorrow War gets sold to a streamer, I’d expect one of the various “likely to be delayed” biggies to end up on that July 23, 2021 slot. The one caveat is that Universal has important films on July 1 (Minions: The Rise of Gru) and July 23 (M. Night Shyamalan’s Old), so it’s not as simple as pushing 007 to Memorial Day and shifting F9 to July 23.
While all of this is release date musical chairs, and entirely speculative, we may start seeing a situation where very big movies will start relocating to dates on or around when other biggies had already staked out turf. That’s doubly true if it looks like the marketplace might improve in the latter half of the year for films (like No Time to Die) that A) have been waiting for awhile and B) don’t come from studios with viable “theaters+streaming” options.
The idea that moviegoing would return to normal in 2021 was always a fantasy, but No Time to Die has become the glowing symbol of ongoing theatrical troubles. It’s the only mega-movie scheduled between now and the summer, give or take Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon which will have a “on Disney+ for $30” component to mitigate theatrical losses. If it moves, it’ll likely aim for its old November stomping grounds. If the folks behind Mission: Impossible can pull off the difficult (“walk in the park?”) task of finishing the film in time for July, then both top-tier spy franchises may survive the fallout and live to die another day.