So who blinks?
One has to assume there's no way both Ready Player One and Avatar 2 end up coming out on December 15, 2017 now that Star Wars Episode VIII has moved its release date. In both cases, there are reasons to expect that they wouldn't want to go head to head with Star Wars.
Steven Spielberg has been a close friend of the Star Wars camp since day one. Hell, he was sitting next to George Lucas at the December premiere of The Force Awakens, and one of his most important professional relationships was with Kathleen Kennedy. While I'm not sure where they are in the production process, word is that they've started casting. I'm sure Spielberg could easily still make the release date. It's almost two years away, after all, and he's one of the most efficient A-list filmmakers alive. Ready Player One has been described by people close to the film as “massively ambitious,” and it's certainly the largest-scale work of fantasy or science-fiction by Spielberg in quite a while.
While I'm not sure James Cameron has any particular fear of competition, he's in business with Disney to build a major Avatar-themed expansion to the Walt Disney World property in Florida, and going head-to-head with them seems like it would create a conflict that could be easily avoided. Besides, if Cameron hasn't started work on the next Avatar film yet, I'm not convinced he could actually deliver it by December of 2017. The amount of animation that has to be done, and the work that needs to be done to make it feel “real,” would make it seems like an impossible technical accomplishment.
I can see Spielberg and Cameron both sticking to the date if it was just their films facing each other, but Star Wars throws so much gravity that it may well force both of them off of the date completely. Maybe Avatar should consider stealing the old Star Wars date and claim May of 2018 for itself. People are going to be watching closely for Avatar 2 in particular considering the first one is still the record holder for worldwide box-office, and it looks like it is going to retain that title unless something unprecedented happens with The Force Awakens.
Ultimately, these are giant stakes movies for the companies releasing them, and Disney's move today was an aggressive one. But now that they've had such remarkable success with the Christmas slot, it seems logical to stay there. It also puts more room between Rogue One and Episode VIII, which would otherwise have come out less than six months apart. It all makes sense, but there's a part of me that is disappointed because 2017 is the 40th anniversary of Star Wars first being released, and not having a new film in theaters in May seems like a missed opportunity of fairly major sentimental proportions.
The real winner today? Rian Johnson, who is writing and directing Episode VIII. He tweeted the following:
– Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) January 20, 2016
Well-played, sir. Well-played.
Star Wars Episode VIII will be in theaters December 15, 2017. We'll see who else shows up that day, and I'd expect some announcements about that soon.