Moving “Dune: Part Two” out of the 2023 Oscar race to March 2024 is the studios’ redeclaration of war against their own 2023 fall lineup, just to destroy the unions or Hollywood itself rather than yield on the strikes. Now that this long-feared domino has fallen, the question now is what their next big “crossing the Rubicon” postponement would be. To that, one may need to look towards the “Killers of the Flower Moon” over at Apple.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a streaming movie, so on that alone, it may seem improbable that Apple would think of delaying it to 2024 to help extend the strikes. But we may need to keep a wary eye on Apple for the next month or so.
A change in release strategy indeed came on August 29th, albeit only to eliminate the movie’s limited release. Instead of opening in New York and Los Angeles on October 6th before a wide release on October 20th, Apple will skip right to a worldwide October 20th release, with an IMAX run to go with it. While that seems to suggest more confidence in a theatrical run and 2023 streaming release instead of less, it hardly means the movie is out of the woods of strike delays.
Given that Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, and projected Best Supporting Actress favorite Lily Gladstone are the movie’s striking stars, there’s clearly a lot of risk in promoting it and its future Oscar campaign without them. Though given that the director is Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is uniquely qualified to handle a promotional tour with just Scorsese plugging it – if he still actually wants to do one without the actors. But if not, or if Apple still wants to hold out on a variety of things, there may be some harder decisions ahead very soon.
By the standard of “Gran Turismo” pushing back its original August 11th wide release date with two weeks to spare, “Killers of the Flower Moon” now probably has until October 6th to decide on any further changes. As such, it is kind of a bad sign that they got rid of a limited release – because if they had chosen to put it in some theaters on October 6th, Apple would have merely had until September 22nd to pull off a longer delay. Now, at the least, Apple has bought itself a few more weeks to consider a far more damaging move.
Until October 6th, there’s still a genuine risk Apple could delay a theatrical run further – and the promise of an IMAX release on October 20th means very little if the “Dune: Part Two” delay is any indication. What’s more, now the sudden October 13th release of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” and its possible $70-100 million opening has made almost every other October film scramble away except “Killers of the Flower Moon” – at least so far. While it would only open against Taylor’s second weekend, and there’s already a “Barbenheimer” themed tweet from Apple combining the two, it still can’t be ruled out that this implied promise to stick around and face off with Swift is just a lie.
It’s still conceivable it could wait a few weeks to use Swift as a public excuse for delaying again until November or December. By then, the implied hope, whether Apple means it or not, would be the strikes will end by Thanksgiving, the film would face less formidable blockbuster foes then – but likely not in IMAX – and DiCaprio, De Niro, Gladstone, and Plemons could jump right into promotional interviews and the Oscar campaign. In that scenario, a release on Apple for streaming audiences could be timed for the holidays a few weeks later, as Netflix did for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” last year.
Yet Apple seemingly has that strategy in place for its other major Oscar contender, Ridley Scott, and Joaquin Phoenix’s “Napoleon” coming to theaters on November 22nd. But if Apple, the other streamers, and studios really want the strikes going into November at minimum, “Napoleon” may need to eventually be sacrificed, too.
In any case, with “Killers of the Flower Moon” having already been seen and raved about at Cannes, it was always going to be Apple’s No. 1 Oscar season priority, no matter what “Napoleon” reactions turn out to be. So if Apple really wants to keep “Killers of the Flower Moon” in 2023, giving it “Napoleon’s” release dates would likely be their very last resort, while “Napoleon” gets moved to the very end of 2023 or directly into 2024.
That is, of course, assuming Apple still wants “Killers of the Flower Moon” in 2023 at all.
Moving “Dune: Part Two” was a clear signal from studios that Oscar season itself is their next potential chopping block. If their goal really is to push the strikes well into 2024, cancel the entire T.V. season, and shutter their full fall movie lineup in hopes it will finally turn a content-starved public against unions instead of themselves, then Oscar season needs to be threatened as well. Since the Emmys moved their original September 2023 date to January 2024 with two months to spare, the strikes going past New Year’s Day would surely get the Oscars pushed to late April at a minimum – for the second time in four years.
If the ultimate nuclear option is crashing Oscar season, then that means pretty much every projected fall contender will also have to be pushed to 2024. That means all upcoming fall festival films over the next few weeks, and the remaining major fall premieres like “The Color Purple,” would have to be moved back first. However, a lot of those projected fall release Oscar contenders are streamers – not just “Killers of the Flower Moon” but “Maestro,” “The Killer,” “Rustin,” and “Nyad,” among others.
At the moment, this is an Oscar season where significant categories can be halfway or mostly filled by movies that were already released or will have SAG-AFTRA promotional exceptions when they’re released wide – including “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie,” “Past Lives,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Zone of Interest,” “Air” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” If the streaming contenders stay in 2023, regardless of how their theatrical runs turn out, they could easily fill whatever slots are left, even if every other fall studio contender moves from 2023 or has terrible reviews. That may just give Oscar season the lifeline it needs to endure further shakeups – and therefore, it may be a lifeline the streamers are determined to withhold.
Streamers clearly think they have the most to lose and hide if they give the unions what they’re asking for. If the unions delay or prevent A.I. programs from supplanting actors and writers, and especially if unions win transparency for streaming viewing numbers, the streamers seem to believe the result will end them – especially if it wrecks their standing in Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and derails their future planned mergers and studio acquisitions. By that logic, nothing is off limits to destroy to stop this from happening, whether it be the Oscars, an entire movie and T.V. season, or Hollywood itself – and that is exactly the business strategy they and the likes of like-minded studio execs David Zaslav and Bob Iger have used so far.
Removing streaming Oscar contenders from 2023, out of the excuse they can’t conduct a future Oscar campaign or theatrical run without actors promoting them, would be the next big signal that they have every intention of pushing strikes well into 2024 to break the unions – just as moving “Dune: Part Two” was. In that context, if they keep all streaming fall contenders in 2023 to fill the rest of the fields, it would directly undermine the cause to use awards season as further blackmail. But if they do keep them in, maybe there’s still a tiny part of the AMPTP and streamers that could be pulled from the brink.
Right now, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is the first major fall streaming contender set for release to general audiences and the biggest one of the season. Therefore, where it goes, so will the rest of the streamers soon enough. If it stays right where it is without further moves, the other future fall contenders from Netflix, Amazon, and Apple will likely remain where they are.
Yet if “Killers of the Flower Moon” moves its theatrical run back later in 2023 for an opening warning sign or just jumps immediately into 2024, the floodgates would likely open for Netflix, Amazon, and the other streamers to fall in line behind it and move their contenders back too – to 2024 or whenever actors can join promotional and Oscar junkets. But if streamers really have so much to hide that would be destroyed or exposed, should unions get mere pennies, then sacrificing a few Oscars would be like sacrificing pennies to them.
In any case, the more contenders that get pushed back, the more “Oppenheimer” solidifies its apparent lead in the race anyway – or what would be left of it. Even though “Killers of the Flower Moon” is supposed to be “Oppenheimer’s” top challenger, maybe Apple will ultimately concede it stands a better chance going against “Dune: Part Two” and other contenders in 2024, with its full theatrical and promotional arsenal – and maybe other streamers and studios will come to the same conclusion.
Maybe this will turn out like when almost all major TV dramas besides “Game of Thrones” moved from the 2018-19 Emmy race, knowing its final season would sweep the Emmys – regardless of how non-voters responded to it. Maybe studios and streamers will tell themselves since “Oppenheimer” will dominate Oscar season anyway, and since they have far bigger priorities to cling to above everything else – even above basic worker’s rights – clearing everything else from 2023, even Oscar contending streamers, is no large loss in the quest to break their human employees.
If that scorched Earth policy is their entire strategy, then the final fate of “Killers of the Flower Moon” – and what comes after it’s settled – may be a more critical turning point, one way or another, than the move of “Dune: Part Two” was. As such, even with its seemingly expanded theatrical plans as of September 5th, it still can’t be ruled out as part of one big lie/future delay threat for another month or more.
Do you think any other 2023 films will move to 2024? Do you think the strikes will impact the date of the Academy Awards? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. And please check out the Next Best Picture team’s latest Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984