BREAKING: Solstice Studios wants to be the first to test the movie theater marketplace, setting a July 1 release date for the Russell Crowe psychological thriller Unhinged. The indie production/distribution company has moved the film from its September 4 release date right into the July 4 weekend, a moment where they expect theaters to be open and full of repertory programming. Unhinged will likely be the first to test the waters as theaters try to rebound from the crushing pandemic, and utilize the safety playbooks that NATO and all exhibitors are finalizing to restore customer confidence that it will be once again safe to venture back into a movie theater.
Watch the first trailer below.
“When we green lit this film, I probably figured that July 4th weekend and Christmas would be the two least likely slots,” said Solstice chairman/CEO Mark Gill. “We were sitting on September 4 and then COVID-19 happened, and A Quiet Place 2 moved out of its original slot and landed on our date. When you are in a speedboat and a giant ship is coming at you, you better move out of the way. We looked at the rest of the year, fall/winter and spring 2021. The release schedule was already crowded, and when you add all the films that have been delayed, it made it think that maybe we go sooner.”
Gill knows July 4 weekend is usually the domain of studio behemoth movies, but that isn’t the case this year for obvious reasons. “The first call was to John Fithian at NATO, whose organization is in touch with state public services departments, and if they had said you can’t open theaters, we would have said forget it. We don’t want to do anything that isn’t safe and expert-guided.”
Turns out the exhibition crowd was looking for a movie just like this one. Solstice did its own private poll of 1000 moviegoers on how many wanted to return to the theaters in July, and the results were encouraging, as was another study that indicated the movies fans will be most eager to see when things rebound are escapist thrillers. A movie about road rage colliding with pent up moviegoer demand could mean acceptable business in a holiday corridor a picture like this moderately budgeted one sees if it is going for the counterprogramming dollar.
“We thought maybe 40% would say they were eager to return to the theaters, but we were surprised to see the number at 80%,” he said. “We became convinced that enough theaters will have been open for a couple of weeks, playing repertory and not new films. This is a relatively modest budget movie at a $33 million budget, and so if we earn $30 million at the box office, we will be fine. If you made a $200 million movie, that would not be acceptable. The bar for success is modest. It was heartening for us to hear the perspectives of theater owners. We are launching as a company that makes films for the theatrical marketplace, and there’s no better way to demonstrate your commitment to theatrical than to be the canary in the coal mine in a post-pandemic atmosphere. We love and support the theaters and the jobs they represent, but from a business perspective, we see an opportunity to have a week or two of clear path before theaters get Mulan and Tenet.”
The pic takes an ordinary, everyday incident to its most terrifying conclusion in telling the story of a mother who leans on her horn at the wrong time, to the wrong guy. Road rage doesn’t begin to describe what he’s about to do to her and everyone she knows. That role is played by Crowe, the Oscar winner who can dial up the intensity like few actors can. Derrick Borte directed the Carl Ellsworth script, and Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson and Austin P. McKenzie also star.
If no other films jump into that corridor to oppose it, Unhinged will benefit from the need to cut down on density in theaters to assure patrons that nobody will be sitting on top of them, and coughing. As Deadline revealed in a Reopening Hollywood column on the preparations being made by theaters, seating will resemble a chess board, with no one sitting next to you, or in front of you. That could cut capacity by 50% or more. If Unhinged is the only new movie in the marketplace, it can take as many screens as needed to get the necessary audience saturation. Theater chains also will make a big showing of sanitizing theaters, eliminating or fully sanitizing traditional points of contact, and using masks and gloves.
“We might not be able to do it with 2000 screens, but maybe we need 8000 screens,” Gill said. “There are 40,000 screens available. As the only new movie in the marketplace at that moment, we expect to be able to have the screens we need.”
Solstice will leave the enforcement of safety measures to the theaters, but he’s become well informed after numerous conversations with theater owners who are desperate to re-open.
“They said they’ve survived floods, hurricanes, riots and shootings, things they had to adapt to in the moment,” he said. “They all say, we’ve had time to prepare and we’re going to do this right. They understand there’s no getting this three-quarters right. It has to be 100% safe, and their levels of preparation gave us the confidence we needed to do this.”
The U.S. release of Unhinged will follow or coincide with theater openings in nations around the globe, including Australia, China, The Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan—with a number of additional countries likely to announce openings in late June or July.
All of these lofty plans are subject to things proceeding as they are right now, as cities — and theaters — across the country carefully reopen, as are movie theaters in countries around the world. A setback could change these release plans, of course.
“I don’t see that happening,” Gill said. “But setting a release schedule is always like playing chess on the ocean, even without a pandemic. Films move, a lot. If states as a public health matter shutter theaters, what are you going to do?”
Here is the just-released trailer: