Covid-19 & The Film Industry

How The Pandemic Has Impacted Exhibition & Distribution

Lawrence Bennie
3 min readOct 4, 2020
Cinemas have gradually reopened, albeit to smaller audiences

As the most expensive film ever made by a female director, it’s doubtful that Disney executives anticipated Mulan would first reach audiences via a streaming platform. With a successful Hollywood premiere back in March, the studio’s live-action remake of their 1998 animated hit was all set for theatrical wide release until Covid-19 changed plans. Instead, Whale Rider director Niki Caro’s $200 million revamp of the folkloric Chinese tale has greeted subscribers on Disney+, the company’s on-demand service which launched in November 2019.

Despite gradual reopening’s from July, Mulan has not made its way to UK cinemas, a move described by The UK Cinema Association as “hugely disappointing”. Certainly, Disney’s decision with Mulan has caused controversy in the cinema business. In a Twitter-posted video, which soon went viral, independent French cinema owner Gerard Lemoine took a baseball bat to a Mulan poster after months of promoting the film. Indeed, Lemoine’s frustration has echoed across the industry. Though other films have been given alternative online releases (particularly on Netflix), cinema bosses have been counting on the appeal of Disney’s family blockbuster to boost flagging cinema-going figures. Instead, members will pay $29.99 for Mulan to Disney+ in the US from September 4th, with costs for other countries to follow.

The online release of Mulan has been proved controversial

As a result of the pandemic, 2020 has seen unprecedented changes in the film industry which have abruptly altered the long-consolidated cycles of exhibition and distribution. As well as theatrical features heading straight to streaming channels, major international film festivals have also been disrupted. After an initial delay, Cannes was eventually cancelled, whilst Sundance: London took place exclusively online between 7th-9th August. Elsewhere, BFI London Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival have adjusted programming to accommodate both live and digital screenings. Whilst the Venice Film Festival is still set to run from 2nd-12th September, many films, particularly American productions, have been delayed or held back.

Outside of the film festival circuit, highly-anticipated productions have also been delayed for later in the year and, in some cases, even beyond. Most notably, Daniel Craig’s 007 swan-song, No Time To Die, has been postponed to April 2021. Additionally, DC’s Wonder Woman 1984 and Marvel’s Black Widow have also been pushed back. Ironically, after years of development hell, three unlikely revivals have also altered course at the last post. Bill & Ted Face The Music has been released in a combined theatrical and video-on- demand premiere for September whilst Top Gun: Maverick and Ghostbusters: Afterlife have been rescheduled for release in 2021.

For filmmakers, one of the most disorientating changes will undoubtedly be the ever-decreasing gap between theatrical release and home entertainment. Video-on-demand services such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Sky Store have capitalised tremendously as the traditional three-months between cinema release and video debut becomes ever slimmer. Of course, the months of pandemic-imposed social isolation have narrowed the gap even further. Originally scheduled for an April 3rd theatrical release, Paramount offloaded romantic comedy The Lovebirds to Netflix who premiered it on May 22nd. Disney’s Onward, Universal’s The Invisible Man and Working Title’s adaptation of Emma are also some of the major features that have alternatively been released digitally, weeks after their planned release in cinemas.

Nevertheless, a not-so new hope has arrived, offering some promise of salvation in these uncertain times for the film industry. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was theatrically released in late August in the UK and early September in the US. With ten years in development, five years to write and a huge budget, it’s Nolan’s most ambitious film to date. He rescued Batman. Will the maverick director now be rescuing our cinemas?

Will Christopher Nolan’s Tenet prove a turning point?



Lawrence Bennie

Teacher & Theatre tour guide. Interested in Arts & Culture, Film, History, Psychology, and the odd mystery!