If families are nervous about sending their kids back to school, how do they feel about movie theaters?
While much of the fall movie slate is looking like it will stay in place despite the COVID-19 Delta surge, reports of Sony Pictures selling “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” to Amazon in a $100 million deal reflect how the pandemic continues to hit family films.
Reps for Sony declined to comment on the potential sale of “Hotel Transylvania 4,” but reports of both an Amazon deal and the tense reopening of schools has coincided with declining consumer confidence in movie theaters. The latest poll from NRG showed moviegoer comfort in going to theaters dropped from 81% last month to 66%.
When broken down by demographics, women over 35 have seen the biggest drop in confidence: Just 52% said they feel comfortable with going out to see a movie.
“In other words, a lot of moms are reluctant to take their kids to the movies right now, so it’s a challenging time to release family films,” one rival distributor told TheWrap. “I think the situation will stabilize over the next couple of months but for now, it’s a handicapped marketplace.”
A move for “Hotel Transylvania 4” would continue a trend that theater owners had hoped would be coming to an end after the summer — at least until infection and hospitalizations spiked and mask mandates became a flashpoint in local schools. So far this year, animated films like Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Universal’s “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and Warner Bros.’ “Space Jam: A New Legacy” have been released day-and-date in theaters and on streaming, providing families with a cheaper option to watch new films at home that has cut into the box office potential for those titles.
That trend continues this weekend with Paramount’s preschooler film “Paw Patrol: The Movie,” which is hitting both theaters and Paramount+ at no extra charge. Earlier this month, Paramount also pulled next month’s CG-live action family film “Clifford the Big Red Dog” entirely from its slate over COVID-19 concerns, with no word on whether it will schedule a new release date or move it to streaming.
Rising COVID anxiety and lower confidence in moviegoing raises the question about other animated films slated to hit theaters in coming months, including MGM’s “The Addams Family 2” on October 1 and 20th Century Studios’ “Ron’s Gone Wrong” on October 22. But the next animated film from a major studio doesn’t come until Disney’s “Encanto” at Thanksgiving, and there’s no knowing whether that film will move to a hybrid release as “Raya” did.
A rep for MGM said “Addams Family” is still slated for October release; a rep for Disney did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its films’ release plans.
There were hopes that films like “Hotel Transylvania 4” would signal the genre’s slow return to theatrical exclusivity, even as most films released specifically for family audiences this summer have either been streaming exclusives or hybrid releases. Sony, after all, is the one major studio that does not have an in-house streaming service like Disney+ or HBO Max — and Amazon is a natural (and deep-pocketed) buyer that can bring the film to audiences quickly via streaming and allow Sony to cash in without a big marketing spend.
Even if “Hotel Transylvania 4” moves to Amazon, Sony hasn’t abandoned its fall slate. The studio moved its biggest tentpole, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” back three weeks to October 15, but it’s still part of a crowded film slate in the coming months. The box office has not recovered to the point that the biggest blockbusters can consistently turn a profit on theatrical revenue alone, but the 18-35 male demographic that is the key target market for films like “Venom” is still reliably turning out.
But until vaccination efforts can finally get COVID-19 under control, theaters pushing for exclusivity to return as soon as possible will likely have to grapple with a major genre sharing its new titles with home platforms.
Box Office Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster