Aquaman may be best served by moving away from a crowded late December release, and a recent shift in Warner Bros.' plans could pave the way for that to happen. James Wan's much anticipated underwater epic is building hype after its well-received Comic-Con trailer, with Warner Bros. hoping the adventures of Arthur Curry fare more like Wonder Woman than Justice League at the box office.
Objective quality aside, Aquaman's biggest hurdle is its crowded holiday release window. The film will have to take on Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Mary Poppins Returns, Alita: Battle Angel, and Bumblebee for a fight over Christmastime moviegoers. Until recently, it didn't seem likely that there was another spot that would work for Aquaman's release in 2018, but an unexpected development could potentially upend Warner Bros.' release schedule if they want to get the most out of the man who talks to fish.
Andy Serkis' long-gestating live action/motion capture Jungle Book adaptation, Mowgli, was slated for release by Warner Bros. this October. But due to several factors - perhaps most prominently the inevitable comparisons to Disney's highly successful 2016 Jungle Book adaptation - Warner Bros. sold the rights to the film to Netflix where it'll debut in 2019. That leaves a noticeable hole in the studio's release schedule. It's doubtable the effects-heavy Aquaman would be ready to hit theaters two months earlier than currently scheduled, and the film's promotional cycle would have to ramp up drastically to meet industry expectations.
But while an October bow for Aquaman may be unfeasible, another Warner Bros. powerhouse franchise could slot into that date nicely: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald. The Harry Potter franchise is such an unstoppable cinematic force that cutting that film's promotional cycle a little short would likely have limited effect on its box office returns.
That would allow Aquaman to slide into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald' vacated November release date, a month that could potentially become a staple for DC Films; Justice League was released in November 2017, and Wonder Woman 1984 will debut in November 2019. Letting DC stake out a traditional release window could help to solidify the struggling franchise's reputation - though having more movies of Wonder Woman quality and fewer of Suicide Squad quality would also help quite a bit.
This strategy would certainly be beneficial to Aquaman and would only have limited adverse effect on Fantastic Beasts. Aquaman's release date might not be as well communicated just yet, but Fantastic Beasts has been pushing marketing for a few months already. Even so, it's hard to imagine many people are going to complain about getting either of those movies sooner than they were expecting. There's the question of whether or not it's logistically possible to move up both movie's promotional cycles by a month, but for a studio of Warner Bros.' size and influence, it's within the realm of possibility.
The one concern that might genuinely be a factor for Warner Bros. is this approach would leave them without a Christmas release. That's less than ideal in any year, but would especially sting this year, when there's no Star Wars film coming down the pike to gobble up all the holiday cash. That lack of Star Wars is partially why late December is so clogged at the moment anyway, with competing studios looking for a major holiday hit as the biggest current movie franchise takes a rare Christmas season off.
The safe move for Warner Bros. is likely to keep everything the way it currently is, and to hope that Aquaman emerges as the Christmas winner among the many holiday contenders. But a bold reshuffling of their schedule could not only lead to much bigger returns for Aquaman, but potentially make box office lemonade out of the very lemon flavored hole in their current schedule.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020