In these unprecedented times, one of the biggest questions swirling around the film industry is how big-budget films will be distributed. When the widespread closing of theaters happened, we saw the theatrical release dates of many highly-anticipated films get pushed. Disney’s Mulan, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place Part II, and the latest James Bond installment No Time to Die are just a few examples of ones we’re still waiting to see. But other films have bypassed shuttered theaters and shifted to exclusively digital releases. Keep reading for a look at recent titles that went this route, as well as the pros and cons of digital releases during this time.
Let’s start with The Lovebirds. The action-comedy stars Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as romantic partners whose relationship is on the rocks before they accidentally witness a murder and have to work together to clear their names. The film was originally set for an April 3 theatrical release, but Paramount ended up bypassing it altogether and sold The Lovebirds to Netflix, where it released May 22. Nanjiani, who also executively produced the film with Rae, spoke with the Los Angeles Times about the distribution choice. “I think this movie is actually a fantastic fit for Netflix,” he shared. “It’s the type of movie that I’ve seen do well on Netflix. Hopefully, it’s a movie that people will connect with right now because it’s a comedy and it’s escapism.” Nanjiani did acknowledge one downside of a digital release, though, stating that watching comedies in a theater setting is “such a communal thing.” And while in-home audiences may miss that aspect when viewing The Lovebirds, Netflix does offer the option of virtual watch parties for those who still want to safely experience the comedy with others in real-time.
The High Note is another new film that premiered to home audiences. It follows the story of Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), a superstar singer who fears becoming irrelevant, and her overworked assistant (Dakota Johnson) who has dreams of becoming a music producer. You’ll have to watch the music-laden drama to see how things turn out for the two, and you can find it on a number of digital platforms since Focus Features made the decision to swap its original May 8 theatrical release date for a digital one on May 29. And while you may miss experiencing the film’s music in the surround sound of a theater, you can still take in its incredible soundtrack — which includes numbers performed by Ross — from the comfort of your own home.
Come June 12, you can see two new titles that are debuting straight to viewers at home, although they have notably different target audiences. Artemis Fowl will release via Disney+, making the switch from its originally scheduled May 29 theatrical debut. The family adventure feature based on Eoin Colfer’s young adult novel follows the titular character, a young criminal mastermind, as he infiltrates a secret society of fairies in order to save his kidnapped father. Director Kenneth Branagh endorsed the move to a digital release, stating that the character Artemis Fowl would “be as proud as I am that families around the world will now be able to enjoy his first amazing screen adventures together on Disney+.” When it premieres on the streaming platform, fans can enjoy performances from Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench, and newcomer Ferdia Shaw. Another big-budget feature that will release digitally on June 12 is The King of Staten Island, a semiautobiographical film about Pete Davidson’s life. He wrote the script with Judd Apatow, who also directed and produced the feature. The story follows Scott (Davidson), a man in his 20s who’s been stuck in a state of arrested development since his father passed away when he was young. But when his mother starts dating an assertive firefighter named Ray, it leads to Scott facing his grief and finally taking steps forward in his life. When the film becomes available to watch on-demand, you can take in a very personal performance from Davidson, as well as performances from names like Steve Buscemi and Marisa Tomei.
The King of Staten Island promises a number of comedic moments, which means its digital release shares the same potential issue with The Lovebirds. That is, viewers may miss the communal feeling of experiencing the laughs together with other movie lovers in theaters. And while parents may be thankful that Artemis Fowl is releasing digitally so that they have another family-friendly option for their kids, the fantasy tale brimming with action sequences and special effects might’ve been better-enjoyed on a big screen. Taking in the soundtrack of The High Note in a theater setting would’ve also been advantageous for those wanting to hear it in all its surround-sound glory. But Ross said it best in an Instagram post announcing the film’s digital release. “This is not what any of us expected. But you know what? We go with the flow … We make the best of what is here,” said Ross. “And this movie is going to bring some joy into your heart.” Film is an art form that can be a source of happiness during dark times, as well as an escape from them, as Nanjiani pointed out. So by releasing digitally now, these films may reach people right when they need them the most. Let us know in the comments below if you’re all for films debuting to home audiences right now or think their release dates should be delayed until they can be viewed in theaters!