It is still the plan for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) to make his return in movie theaters despite the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the exhibition industry, according to The Walking Dead chief content officer Scott Gimple. Two years have passed since Gimple, the film's writer and producer, announced the first-ever Walking Dead feature film trilogy following Rick after he disappears from the television show. Initially intended as a series of AMC original movies that would air on the network but have "the scope of feature films," plans changed when AMC Networks and Skybound Entertainment partnered with Universal Pictures to bring The Walking Dead to movie theaters.
"We're very much continuing forward. I'm working on it with Mr. Lincoln and [Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman]. We have a whole bunch of people cranking away on it," Gimple told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a movie. Movies are different. Movies go through a very different process than television. I'm confident at the end of the day, it's going to be something special."
Asked if current conditions and their impact on movie theaters is affecting the Walking Dead trilogy, Gimple answered, "Not at all, but it certainly goes through my head that this is all about seeing [the film] at the movies."
"Independent of anything we're doing, I'm just pulling for the industry. We're about to go through a very tough time," he said. "But as we move toward the spring, we're talking about things potentially getting better in a permanent way. I would hope that come the end of next summer, people are piling into movie theaters again and laughing until they're screaming together, eating popcorn together, and that we are once more enjoying each other's company in front of a huge screen with awesome things happening on it. We hope to be a part of it."
Theater chains took a blow when AT&T-owned WarnerMedia announced it would be sending its entire Warner Bros. slate for 2021, a total of 17 movies, to streaming on HBO Max on the same day that they open in theaters at no extra cost to subscribers. This day-and-date release strategy drew ire from AMC Theatres boss Adam Aron, but AT&T CEO John Stankey defended the move as "an appropriate decision for the moment we're in" amid sustained theater closures and surging coronavirus cases.
Even as COVID-19 vaccines become available, Stankey predicts moviegoers won't feel comfortable returning to theaters until at least late 2021. Despite sending a shockwave through the industry with news that anticipated titles like Dune and The Suicide Squad will release on HBO Max the same day that they open in theaters, both Stankey and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar believe movie theaters will continue to exist and thrive in 2022 and beyond.