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Coming Soon Later to a Theater Near You

Recent news that the Wachowski siblings’ sci-fi bender Jupiter Ascending has been pushed back from this July until next spring is a reminder that the timing of a major motion picture is always subject to change—even at the eleventh hour, after promotional posters have been released and after multiple theatrical trailers have played in cinemas.

Schedule shuffling seems to be happening more often lately, no doubt a symptom of the studio practice of calling dibs on a release date for a movie months or even years before its intended premiere.

As soon as we caught our first preview glimpses of the latest X-Men movie Days of Future Past, we learned the news that X-Men: Apocalypse would swiftly follow on May 27, 2016. Weeks before Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened this past April, Marvel announced the Cap 2 filmmakers would return for Cap 3, to be released May 6, 2016—on the same date the postponed Man of Steel not-really-a-sequel thingy is currently slated for, though this super-hero-sized chicken race will surely find its flincher before then.

I usually snicker when a studio stakes out a date for a movie that is barely in pre-production, sometimes before all the talent is locked in and oftentimes before a single scene has even been shot, because anything can happen on the set that could delay completion (like, say, the death or injury of a leading performer during production or, perhaps, the arrival of a monster storm that wipes out an expensive and elaborate set). Some movies require more time in post-production than others (just ask Martin Scorsese, who famously delayed The Age of Innocence a full year from 1992 to 1993 just so he could fine-tune the editing). Even after the movie is “in the can,” promotional and publicity challenges can arise and sometimes result in a postponement (like when a tragic news story cuts a little too close to the plot details of the latest would-be blockbuster—or vice versa).

As is the ostensible case with Jupiter Ascending, sometimes there’s simply a perceived glut in the marketplace and the studio repositions the movie in hopes it will perform better with less competition—especially since this one’s so expensive and daring…and original sci-fi is always a tough sell…and nothing the Wachowskis have made since 1999 has quite lived up to the “whoa” factor of The Matrix. 

 
We’ll all have to wait a little while longer to witness Channing Tatum with his pointy elf ears and Mila Kunis with her jagged “Shut up, Meg” voice save the universe Wachowski style.

In the meantime, here’s a brief history of major motion pictures that were famously postponed.

Titanic (1997) 

In the afterglow of eleven Oscars and over two billion worldwide box office dollars, most folks forget that while James Cameron was spending a then-astonishing $200 Million to make his movie in a water tank, Hollywood was bracing for a pricy disaster of Ishtar and Waterworld proportions. After the movie was bumped from its initial Summer 1997 release date to Christmastime, industry cynics were certain the movie would be an embarrassing flop…and ultimately proven wrong.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

When Francis Ford Coppola took a crew to the Philippines in 1976 to make his Vietnam War epic, he had no idea that the planned 70-something day shoot would drag out to over 230 days of filming. Working with an unfinished and constantly changing screenplay certainly didn’t help keep things on schedule, nor did working with improvisational prima donna actors who don’t bother to learn their lines. A destructive typhoon that ruined the set didn’t help matters any, and leading man Martin Sheen suffered a heart-attack mid-shoot. The delays in production were widely reported in the entertainment media, with some of the snarkier sharks in the trades quipping, “Apocalypse When?”

The Hunt for Red October (1990) 

Complex visual effects are the scapegoat here, pushing back the release of John McTiernan’s submarine classic from Christmas 1989 to March 1990.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

In the time following G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009, Channing Tatum became a box office draw (or at least he participated in several surprise hits, making him a draw by association). The sequel was dropped from the Summer 2012 lineup at the eleventh hour and pushed back to March 2013, reportedly because the many visual effects weren’t complete, possibly due to the decision to convert the movie to 3D, but mostly because the filmmakers and the studio needed some time to tinker (and reshoot) in order to capitalize on Tatum’s presence…and maybe not kill off his character so unceremoniously as originally planned.

World War Z (2013) 

Despite poisonous gossip surrounding the jettisoning of the film’s original third act and expensive late-hour reshoots, the Brad Pitt zombie apocalypse thriller overcame all the negative buzz to score a critical and financial success. It might’ve gotten lost in the holiday season of 2012 as originally planned, but the movie certainly found its audience during the Summer of 2013—so much so that Pitt and Paramount are currently devising a sequel.

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (2014) 

The long-awaited sequel to the 2005 Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez cult hit finally arrives in theaters this August, after nearly a decade of rumors and false starts—and a year-long bump from its original slot last summer.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) 

Immediately after the premiere of Man of Steel last summer, plans were announced for a speedy follow-up. Second unit crowd footage was reportedly filmed at a college football game last fall, and everyone assumed we’d be seeing Man of Steel 2 in 2015. This was before the thrust of the movie veered away from a direct Superman story and began to take shape as a Superman/Batman mash-up and a launching point for the forthcoming Avengers-style Justice League project—with the inclusion of the Caped Crusader and Wonder Woman, and possibly Aquaman, too. The eleven-month delay from June 2015 to May 6, 2016 likely has a lot to do with Justice League cast members being locked down for their expected BvS cameos, along with the obvious logistical benefits of Zack Snyder possibly filming some of the just-announced DC movie slate back-to-back-to-back.

Fast & Furious 7 (2015) 

Fast 7 was already filming when the tragic death of co-star Paul Walker left the project in flux. Instead of reshooting or writing out his character, the filmmakers will “resurrect” Walker with the aid of body and voice doubles (including Walker’s own two brothers) and face-replacement CGI technology. Figuring this all out has already caused the movie to be delayed from its projected 2014 release to April 2015. Reports that co-star Vin Diesel is still so bummed out by Walker’s death that he can’t get his head back in the game have prompted some to suggest the filmmakers should consider using the same digital replacement technology for him as well as Walker, or risk more delays.

Star Wars – Episode VII (2015) 

In a galaxy far, far, away, the original Star Wars movies were always Memorial Day releases that signified the official launch of the summer movie season. Nowadays Hollywood’s summer seems to begin in April, but no matter: pre-production delays caused the intended release date of the new Star Wars movie to be pushed back from Summer 2015 to Christmas 2015 (that’s December 18, 2015, for those of us monitoring the countdown). Director J.J. Abrams apparently wanted still more time than that and was jockeying for a Summer 2016 release, but Disney flat-out promised their shareholders in October 2012 there’d be a new Star Wars movie in 2015, so the year 2015 was essentially etched in stone from day one.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 

Not counting a series of reshoots, much of this long, long, long-awaited return to George Miller’s Road Warrior saga (with Tom “Bane” Hardy taking the wheel from Mel Gibson) has been in the can for almost two years. It feels like it was in development and production forever. After its most recent round of pick-ups, the fourth Mad Max film is reportedly now finished shooting and undergoing the usual post-production refinements, with a May 15, 2015 release date planned. Excited murmurs surrounding an industry screening of a work-in-progress version suggest the movie is bat-shit crazy and killer cool. If it’s true the filmmakers have envisioned this as the starting point of a new Road Warrior trilogy, they’d better get cracking on production for Parts 5 and 6 soon, lest Hardy likewise be replaced for aging out of the part.

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