Hollywood’s Biggest Movies Are Stuck in Limbo as Start Dates Remain Uncertain

Justin Kroll and Brent Lang

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The cameras may have stopped rolling two weeks ago, but Hollywood’s headaches only stand to intensify in the coming weeks and months as the industry tentatively looks ahead to the day when studios will be back in business.

From “The Matrix 4” to “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the coronavirus pandemic has ground production to a standstill, leaving many of the teams behind the biggest blockbusters uncertain when they will be able to call action again.

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Sources tell Variety that most studios are letting talent and their reps know that at this point they do not expect these stalled productions to get back underway until mid-May at the earliest. When most of these shutdowns were first announced, studios hinted that it was possible that people could go back to work in April. But even May could be overly optimistic — the pandemic is not expected to reach its apex in major production hubs like New York City until the end of April.

Studios won’t be able to go back to work until local governments lift the bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, a number that most sets routinely eclipse. One source believes that the first films to resume production will likely be ones that are shooting in the U.S., as the prospect of filming overseas presents too many logistical challenges given the global nature of COVID-19.

Not only are studios focused on ensuring the safety of their casts and crews, they are also trying to figure out how to accommodate talent that had lined up other productions in the coming months. Right now the expectation is that in-demand stars such as Chris Pratt in “Jurassic World: Dominion” or Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds in “Red Notice” will be able to convince forthcoming productions to move their start dates further into the future so they can finish shooting. Individuals in supporting roles who have larger parts in upcoming productions will likely have to drop out, and insiders say studio executives are already checking in on the availability of other actors who can serve as possible replacements.

As for films in pre-production that hadn’t started filming yet, titles like “Uncharted” and Disney’s “Peter Pan & Wendy” are on hiatus as well until firm start dates can be sorted out. The biggest film in pre-production that has yet to move its start date is Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Pre-production has continued remotely on the superhero film, and sources say it is still on track to start shooting in June.

Mission: Impossible 7” had been about to start in Venice, but filming was pushed back after Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus. Much of the movie is said to unspool in the European country, making it difficult for the production to move shooting elsewhere.

Other major movies were fairly far along when the virus began to intensify. “The Matrix 4” had finished shooting in San Francisco and was about to begin production in Berlin, “The Batman” had completed nearly seven weeks of filming in London, and “Red Notice” had been in the works for two months in Atlanta. There’s an outside chance these films might even make their original release dates, although it is more likely they will be moved back.

Development slates at the studios are also in flux. Most executives don’t expect things to get back to normal for several weeks, though a few are taking video and phone meetings as they try to game out films they hope to greenlight in the next 12 months. Director George Miller, for instance, has been meeting with names including Anya Taylor-Joy for his “Furiousa” spin-off, which he hopes to start shooting in 2021.

Of course, Miller is making concessions to coronavirus — those auditions have taken place via Skype.

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