The third theatrical film based on characters from Nickelodeon's long-running SpongeBob Squarepants TV series might miss its planned August release date due to the chaos created in the film community as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic and associated shutdowns of production exhibition for major motion pictures. While animation is more able than live-action to continue with employees working from home, a production the size of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run needs to actually make money -- and that's harder to do when the crowds in theaters are sparse. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish told investors that decisions are still being made on some tentpole releases, and there's just not enough information yet to be definitive.
The film is the next big family release from the company following the success of Sonic the Hedgehog, which significantly overperformed against modest expectations. The movie took in over $300 million in a month-long theatrical run, making it the second-highest grossing movie of 2020 so far. Bakish characterized the success as the possible beginning of a new film franchise for Paramount.
"We will obviously look at the market and...if there is sufficient critical mass at theaters to warrant an August 7 SpongeBob release," Bakish said. "It is too early to call if it is definitely going to be released or it is definitely not going to be released."
The studio does not necessarily need SpongeBob to hit its date to have a reasonably healthy 2020. Per Bakish, Paramount had completed production on a number of films, including Coming to America 2, Top Gun: Maverick, Snake Eyes, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. The movies are currently in post production remotely, giving them a ready lineup of completed films when theaters are back up and running.
The announcement comes at a tough time for theaters, though: AMC is near bankruptcy, having been struggling financially since before the Covid-19 crisis, and the success of Universal's Trolls World Tour seems to have stirred some long-anticipated debates between distributors and theatrical exhibitors regarding the length of the theatrical window in an entertainment industry increasingly driven by streaming video on demand. Bullish comments on digital-day-and-date release from Universal executives were met with an outcry from theater chains and their representatives, in what is actually a pretty predictable scenario since frustration from exhibitors is one of the factors that has kept studios somewhat quiet on the future of digital.