This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
If you medicate your anxiety over the apocalyptic news cycle whipping around us with the menacing force of a fire tornado (a thing that really happened!) by keeping casual tabs on entertainment industry news, then you’re forgiven for feeling a sense of encouraging comfort recently.
If not, let me catch you up: Hollywood is back, baby!
At least that’s the impression you’d get.
“COVID bubbles” are teased by producers of reality shows that are filming like cute and glamorous Tinseltown quirks and not end-times recourse strategies to ensure that Bachelor Nation still gets their fix, come hell or come coronavirus.
Fall TV previews like mine—read it and give me those clicks—tease the staggering volume of shows still set to premiere in the coming months, calming fears that we would at some point run out of new programming because of the Hollywood shutdown.
MTV produced a honest-to-goodness, actual award show. Stars have been dispatched all over the world to resume filming the big movies that halted production in March and April, the Venice Film Festival is up and running over in Italy, the Toronto Film Festival is waiting in the wings, and, despite it still being eight months away, Oscar campaigning has officially begun.
Then there’s the big news stateside: Movie theaters are reopening across the country, meaning that the craven lunatics who have been jonesing for this very moment can finally risk it all to see Tenet on the big screen. (The fact that, apparently, you won’t be able hear most of it? Superfluous!)
It is an immeasurably consequential weekend for the industry. It’s no longer just the extent to which there is any illusion of a return to normal, but what the future of the business might be as this pandemic wears on.
Tenet generated $53 million at the international box office last weekend, a very strong number. Of course, that is in the rest of the world where the pandemic response is not still an absolute shit show.
The question is no longer should Tenet have courted this rush to reopen cinemas. It is how willing are people going to be to buy tickets now that they’re back. How it performs could dictate the release strategies for the rest of the year’s cinema slate.
Then there’s the other huge release, Mulan, which is staging the groundbreaking experiment of whether audiences will be OK with skipping the theaters to watch a hotly anticipated blockbuster on their TVs at home—just for the not-so-small price tag of $30 plus a subscription fee.
They are dual strategies that actually will have a huge impact in how Hollywood moves forward, a conversation that seems to be operating independently of and maybe has even superseded the discussion of whether it even should.
Every day brings yet more news of a celebrity that has contracted the coronavirus. To quote this Vulture headline that was in questionable taste but still made me choke on my drink, “The Rock, his wife, and their little pebbles all test positive for COVID-19.”
Production on The Batman has had to shut down again after Robert Pattinson tested positive while on set, which, I don’t know, is not the greatest argument for all this filming to be starting up. (Shout out to my colleague Laura Bradley, who, when asked if she had suggestions for what I might write about this week, wasted not a second before replying “a 600-word prayer for Robert Pattinson.”)
In order to prevent a similar scenario on his Mission: Impossible set, Tom Cruise has purchased an actual cruise ship to confine crew members and keep them from being infected—an arguably logic-defying move considering how prevalent cruise ships were in the original spread of the virus, but nonetheless…
And if nothing else will reignite concerns over film set safety amid all this, perhaps it will be the death of John Nolan, an assistant director who lost his battle with COVID after returning to work on a commercial production in Texas.
Craft whatever narrative you want about the need to open things up again and return to normal, but the stakes are very real. It’s the precarious position of Hollywood, where the very idea is to help us all escape reality, at a time when it’s proving absolutely inescapable.