The movie, which stars Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci, is being positioned as Halloween season event programming for HBO Max. Initially, The Witches was scheduled to open on Oct. 16, before being moved a week to Oct. 9. Then, back in June, Warner Bros. undated the film from the theatrical release schedule.
While this expression gets overused in describing the push-and-pull of studios and exhibition during the pandemic, it’s really a chicken-and-egg-scenario. Theaters are in desperate need of titles, but studios don’t want to roll the dice on putting an expensive movie out there given the unpredictable economic climate, especially with New York city and Los Angeles cinemas still closed. At the same time, studios need to monetize these finished films during the pandemic and turn them into revenue events. In the case of fledgling HBO Max, it too needs more product in the wake of its May launch to compete with the near year old Disney+ and AppleTV+ as well as the mother of all streamers, Netflix, which has its programming rollout down to a science.
Based on Dahl’s 1983 book, The Witches follows a young boy who stumbles upon a secret coven of witches and, with the help of his loving grandmother, vies to stop their evil plan to turn all the world’s children into mice. Oscar winner Hathaway stars as the sly, menacing Grand High Witch and Oscar winner Spencer as the tough but loving grandmother who will fight her to the end. Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci plays the hotel manager who unwittingly hosts the witches’ convention. Kristin Chenoweth and Jahzir Bruno also star with adult narration by Chris Rock. Zemeckis co-wrote, directed and produced. Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro also co-wrote the screenplay. Alfonso Cuaron, del Toro, Jack Rapke, and Steve Starkey are also producers.