What the Year in Blockbuster Cinema (Should Have) Looked Like
If not for the movie industry slowdown as a result of the pandemic, 2020 might have been the biggest year in blockbuster cinema yet. Here’s a glimpse of what might have been.
Somewhere in an alternate timeline, on a version of Earth you might call Earth-2, the year 2020 bestowed an embarrassment of riches in blockbuster cinema. There was no pandemic, no bungled U.S. government response, no near-death blow to the movie theater industry, and no delay after indefinite delay of the year's biggest, most anticipated movies. The Daily Beast has obtained an exclusive glimpse of how the year in moviegoing unfolded in this happier and healthier timeline, described in chronological detail below by special Earth-2 Correspondent Richard Newby.
What a year! 2020 had its share of ups and downs but one thing that couldn’t be stopped was the movies. From event-level blockbusters to smaller fare that just had to be seen on the big screen, movie fans had plenty to choose from. No one expected this year's box office results to top 2019 (and the juggernaut that was Avengers: Endgame). But the start of a new decade proved to be one for the record books with eight films crossing the billion-dollar milestone. While down from last year's record of nine, this year's attendance was bigger and, notably, a number of those top grossers were directed by women.
While it’s perhaps sentimental thinking on my part, this remarkable year in film served as something of a cherry on top of President Hillary Clinton handily winning a second term. Before we head into 2021, it’s worth reflecting on the biggest milestones, moments, and surprises from this year in film.
The Billion-Dollar Hitmakers:
No Time to Die – April 10
Daniel Craig’s final Bond outing was the first film to top a billion dollars in 2020. Despite the long wait for its release and the behind-the-scenes shuffling of directors from Danny Boyle to Cary Joji Fukunaga, the final product stands as one of the best Bond stories committed to film. While some critics and audiences found the two hour and 43 minute runtime excessive, most fans found their time was well spent in the effort to tie Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre together. Craig delivered arguably his best and most layered portrayal of the character. But it was Lashana Lynch’s new 007, Nomi, who stole the show.
Eon Productions has announced it is already in the early stages of a spin-off for Lynch’s character, and has confirmed that “James Bond will return” with a new actor taking over the role. Daniel Kaluuya and Richard Madden are reportedly the two frontrunners, with a story in early development that’s said to forever change the way audiences think of Octopussy (1983).
Black Widow – May 1
Black Widow officially kicked off the summer movie season and became Marvel’s second female-fronted superhero picture to make over a billion dollars, following last year’s Captain Marvel. While director Cate Shortland’s film served as a swan song for Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, the prequel also ensured that Johansson will remain a large part of the MCU’s future. The villain Taskmaster was revealed to be an enhanced clone of Natasha, so the actress will have the opportunity to play a supervillain going forward. And with Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova now the White Widow, the Marvel Cinematic Universe also has a new super-spy in its roster.
Oh, and there’s no denying that the mid-credits scene between Yelena and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) talking about “Nat” brought on the waterworks. And the post-credit sequence that revealed Secretary Ross (William Hurt) is actually a Skrull certainly set up an exciting future for the MCU.
F9 – May 22
Space is the place! After years of speculation, Dom (Vin Diesel) and his family finally made it into orbit. The nearly three hour-long film was everything audiences expected, stuffed with insane car stunts that defied the laws of physics, returning faces (Eva Mendes’ Monica Fuentes!), and plot pay-offs that dug all the way back to the original film. While some critics found the storyline involving Dom’s brother Jakob (John Cena), who plans to travel back in time to ensure his own creation while erasing Dom’s, a stretch too far, both Christopher Nolan and Kip Thorne found it scientifically sound and emotionally moving.
There are also already rumors that Nolan is interested in writing a future F&F installment, though his current partnership with Warner Bros. might make that tough. Either way, the end of the film set up a bold new future for the franchise, with Dom’s crew situated in a space station overseen by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody. Next up? Space NOZ.
Wonder Woman 1984 – June 5
We always knew Patty Jenkins’ sequel would deliver. The question was whether Warner Bros.’s decision to delay the film from November 2019 to this past June would pay off. It did and then some, with the film becoming the highest-grossing film in the DCEU, surpassing Aquaman. Director Patty Jenkins has signed on to direct another Wonder Woman installment, but it won’t hit theaters until 2024 given that she has a galaxy far, far away in her immediate future. But she will be producing The Amazons, a prequel film set to delve into the creation of the race of warrior women and explore their relationship with the gods.
Audiences won’t have to wait four years to see Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman again either. Not only will she be in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, she’ll also team up with Shazam in the sequel directed by David Sandberg.
Minions: The Rise of Gru – July 3
I did not see the Minions sequel, and in fact I don’t know anyone who did. Yet the Despicable Me/Minions series continues to be a billion-dollar franchise and we’ve just accepted it. When the end of the world comes, nothing will be left to tell of our existence but those yellow, goggle-clad minions. And there’s a simple poetry in that.
Jungle Cruise – July 24
In a year ruled by sequels and comic-book adaptations, Jungle Cruise emerged as one of the year’s biggest success stories. While loosely based on the Disney theme park ride, Jaume Collet-Serra’s film took a lot of its inspiration from pulp magazine stories. The back and forth between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt was a highlight of this effects-heavy adventure, which many viewers have called a successor to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Disney is certainly happy with the result; it greenlit two sequels that will see Johnson and Blunt return, joined, to everyone’s surprise, by Jack Nicholson, who is coming out of retirement for a chance to go toe-to-toe with Johnson.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage – Oct. 2
From Tom Hardy talking to himself to Woody Harrelson chewing the scenery, Venom: Let There Be Carnage was a delight of odd accents and bizarre symbiote relationships. Director Andy Serkis upped the ante from the first film and delivered an even weirder sequel, fleshing out Eddie Brock's character and giving Tom Hardy the opportunity to go full method in motion capture for his symbiote Venom. Adding to the excitement, Michelle Williams got a symbiote of her own and helped defeat Carnage.
Still, the demise of Venom's archenemy doesn’t seem so permanent. A post-credits scene showed Eddie Brock meeting with Morbius (Jared Leto) and set the stage for a third entry, Venom: Maximum Carnage. Jared Leto was rumored to have drank two quarts of blood on set in preparation for the post-credit scene. Oh, and we’d be negligent if we didn’t mention Eminem’s return to the soundtrack with another ear-wormy number entirely deserving of its Grammy nomination.
Eternals – Nov. 6
Chloe Zhao’s Eternals stands as the best-directed film in the MCU and an achievement in blockbuster filmmaking. And despite general audiences’ unfamiliarity with the relatively obscure characters at its center, they recognized that the film was something special and showed up in droves. At a screening held in New York, Martin Scorsese stood at the end, clapped, and was reported to be heard yelling, “This is cinema!” When asked later what he thought about the post-credits sequence revealing a teenage Thanos as a member of the Deviants, Scorsese revealed he doesn’t stay for credits, shocking the world and once again putting the revered filmmaker at the center of a comic-book movie controversy.
Other Success Stories
2020 also proved to be a great year for horror movies with A Quiet Place Part II, Spiral, Candyman, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and Halloween Kills all fulfilling audiences’ desires for blood and screams.
And in a bit of news that made horror fans extremely happy, the rights to the Friday the 13th films finally sorted themselves out. A new take on Jason Voorhees from Blumhouse Productions is already in motion and set to release on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. And Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) is re-teaming with producer Elijah Wood for a new take on A Nightmare on Elm Street. While nothing has been solidified yet, horror producer Jason Blum is said to be very interested in pitting Freddy and Jason against each other on the big screen again. To top it all off, Jordan Peele has announced his next horror movie will release on Christmas next year and redefine holiday horror.
While a billion dollars is certainly much to brag about, plenty of other films that fell short of that mark found their audiences in 2020, too. Top Gun: Maverick, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Morbius, and Snake Eyes all guaranteed their respective studios’ new franchises. Cruise is currently busy filming the Mission: Impossible sequels (his crew members have called him one of the most relaxed performers they’ve ever worked with), but he’s promised a continuation of Maverick’s story.
The sequel to Morbius, meanwhile, is set to follow the third Venom entry, with Tom Holland rumored to play an integral part. Holland is currently physically training for the third Spider-Man film, though production has been slightly pushed back after the actor mysteriously lost two quarts of blood overnight.
While word of mouth is strong for Godzilla vs. Kong, which opened on November 20th, and Dune, which just opened this past weekend, Warner Bros. hasn’t confirmed the future of either franchise just yet, though it seems optimistic about the holiday numbers. Even with only one billion-dollar hit this year, Warner Bros. has remained the most popular studio in Tinseltown. And its extension of its partnerships with Legendary and Christopher Nolan promises to be fruitful in this new decade, with Nolan setting his next film at the studio for 2023.
Of course, we can’t let the year go by without discussing Nolan’s Tenet, which surpassed Interstellar's haul of $696 million a few weeks ago, thanks in part to the director traveling across the globe to personally ensure that the IMAX screens playing his film met his exact standards of calibration and quality. When asked if he wouldn’t mind doing the same thing for home entertainment centers, the director said he has something in the works. That’s right, folks, don’t be alarmed if Christopher Nolan slides down your chimney this holiday season to make sure those 4K TVs are pixel perfect.
A Look Ahead
The coming year offers plenty to look forward to, including but not limited to Uncharted, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Jurassic World: Dominion, Tomb Raider 2, Mission: Impossible 7, The Batman, Halloween Ends, Black Adam, Wicked, and finally Avatar 2, which James Cameron recently announced is now is the first entry in a 20-part saga, with each one better than the last.
All in all, I’d say moviegoers had a pretty great year on Earth-2.