Black Widow. Wonder Woman 1984. Fast and Furious 9. No Time to Die. These were meant to be some of the big summer blockbusters of 2020. And yet, none of them have been released yet. We all know why—the novel coronavirus—but in the place of those films, something strange happened. New movies… did come out. Here’s some you might have missed.
A lot has happened in the movie industry over the last several months. Movies made for and by streaming companies perhaps had a unique advantage in the past. But now that theatrical releases have been diverted to streaming or video on demand home release, there are even more entertainment choices within your reach. As the summer comes to an end, we decided to look back at what actually ended up being the unexpected “big summer blockbusters” of 2020—plus, a few we still have to look forward to.
The Old Guard
Let’s face it. If anyone but Netflix had paid for The Old Guard, The Old Guard would’ve been released in theaters. During the summer. As a blockbuster. The film has it all: big star (Charlize Theron), talented director (Gina Prince-Bythewood), and high-concept comic book source material. Released at any time, during any year, The Old Guard had the makings of a massive box office hit. It still delivered big time.
We’ve not yet seen Project Power, but like The Old Guard, everything about it makes sense as a Hollywood blockbuster. Two big stars (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jamie Foxx) team up with successful directors (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) on a super cool, high-concept idea involving a drug that gives people random, temporary superpowers. Here’s hoping it lives up when it comes out August 14.
Other big summer releases on Netflix: (movies we don’t/didn’t cover on io9, but still totally count): The Lovebirds, Eurovision, Da 5 Bloods
If it wasn’t for covid-19, audiences would have had a chance to see Palm Springs in theaters. Hulu and Neon didn’t pay over $17 million for it to just go to streaming. Thankfully, though, we got to see it anyway and can now watch it again and again. This time travel romantic comedy is perfect for multiple viewings.
In Shirley, Elisabeth Moss plays Shirley Jackson, author of everyone’s favorite book turned horror project(s), The Haunting Of Hill House. But this isn’t a straight biopic. It’s a film that explores the depths of artistic inspiration, diabolical manipulation, and all manner of cynical, enjoyable interaction. Shirley isn’t a typical blockbuster by any means but it does offer perspective on the people who come up with those type of ideas in the first place.
The Vast of Night
A mysterious noise catches the radio waves on an otherwise quiet New Mexico night in the 1950s. The next few hours uncover some bizarre mysteries in this captivating, beautiful little movie that couldn’t have been released at a better time. You should definitely check it out.
Other big summer releases on Amazon: My Spy, 7500
From the director of Thor, based on a famous series of books, Artemis Fowl was originally supposed to be released in August of 2019. Then it got bumped back to 2020. Never a good sign. Then after the pandemic hit and the May release date got canceled in favor of a Disney+ drop. That was good for the service—it probably brought in some new eyeballs—but reviews were putrid. In the end, Artemis Fowl ended up as the all-too-familiar summer blockbuster with tons of potential that just plain flops.
Black Is King
It’s kind of perfectly “Beyoncé” that at the start of summer, most people had no idea she was working on a loosely Lion King-themed “visual album,” aka a musical. Then one day, boom, it’s out and it’s awesome. Black Is King feels like something from another decade because it so raw and thought-provoking but also entertaining and catchy as hell. A blockbuster if ever there was one.
The One and Only Ivan
We’ve yet to screen The One and Only Ivan but, unlike Artemis Fowl, the fact that this one is bypassing theaters doesn’t seem to be a knock on its quality. Critics have generally praised this inspiring talking animal movie—and in these times, lord knows we can all use a bit of happiness and inspiration. It’s out August 14.
Other big summer releases on Disney+: Hamilton, which, arguably, was the biggest blockbuster of the summer.
An American Pickle
Two Seth Rogens for the price of one? What a deal! Like many other films this summer, An American Pickle was originally considered for theatrical release, but its ridiculously weird premise (a guy from the past is preserved in pickle juice) was eventually deemed better suited for streaming. Plus, it gave the new HBO Max a prestigious title for itself.
A big-budget animated film based on a timeless franchise, Scoob was also originally scheduled to hit theaters. Warner Bros. changed course, though, and released it to streaming, first premium on-demand, and eventually HBO Max. Fans and non-fans alike seemed to really like the new spin on Scooby-Doo, and with kids home every day, parents sure do appreciate a new family film.
Bored in quarantine, a group of friends decides to hold a socially distanced séance over Zoom… and things spiral out of hand, in a movie that manages to pack in some astute observations about the woes of lockdown (especially when it comes to who you’re stuck isolating with) as well as some genuinely unsettling frights. We’ll probably be seeing a lot more movies with this set-up, but Host got there early and does a bang-up job despite its unavoidable technical limitations. It’s streaming now.
Lake of Death
There’s some history with this Norwegian creepfest: it’s inspired by a 1958 film (itself adapted from a 1942 paranormal mystery novel) that’s still considered to be one of the country’s standout thrillers. There’s other history, too, in that the characters can’t stop referencing American horror movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Evil Dead movies, whose DNA is definitely present in this “friends go to a cabin with a tragic past, and why is the most troubled member of the group always sleepwalking?” Lake of Death is an admittedly slow-paced tale, but the cinematography is so gorgeous you may find yourself longing for your own vacation alongside what’s clearly an extremely cursed body of water.
Train to Busan: Peninsula
Yeon Sang-ho follows up his 2016 zombie smash with a sequel that shifts its focus to a new group of characters and picks up a few years after South Korea became ground zero for the undead. We’ll have a full review of this one closer to its release date, but suffice it to say, Peninsula offers a reminder that there’s always room in the horror realm for another really great zombie movie. It’s out August 21.
Other big summer releases on VOD: Relic, Trolls World Tour, The Rental
That’s just part of it. There were other “summer blockbuster type” movies released not in the genre (horror, sci-fi, fantasy) sphere. Stuff like Greyhound, Capone, The King of Staten Island, and Irresistible. Also, don’t forget the films that were still playing in theaters when they shut down: The Invisible Man, Onward, The Hunt, etc., or the resurgence of drive-in theaters. TV also became its own kind of blockbuster this summer with shows like The Last Dance, Floor Is Lava, and Unsolved Mysteries.
Which is all to say, 2020 was a pretty fucking weird summer “at the movies.” What have you enjoyed?
Additional reporting by Cheryl Eddy
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