At a glance, there’s nothing remarkable about the new trailer for Zack Snyder’s (around) $90 million-budgeted, R-rated, 148-minute Army of the Dead. It looks quite good, and if nothing else I’m down for Snyder’s visuals and Dave Bautista’s star power/onscreen charisma (I’ll defend My Spy unto death). Moreover, the premise (about a band of roughnecks who attempt a casino heist in the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a zombie outbreak) is a strong hook even if South Korea’s Train to Busan: Peninsula beat it to theaters by almost a year.
That’s no shade, as the world has room for Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. The $1.2 million domestic gross for the Train to Busan ($42 million worldwide, including $28 million in South Korea) spin-off implies that plenty of folks will look at this “zombie heist” movie as a “new to you” premise. But the big twist comes at the end of the trailer, when Netflix notes that the film will be arriving on May 21 on Netflix and in selected theaters.
Yes (as noted on the poster released on April 3), Snyder’s zombie actioner will be playing theatrically, in at least some nationwide capacity. While I don’t know how wide it will go or what chains will or won’t play the Netflix offering, it’s not that shocking on its face. We’ve had certain prestige/high-end Netflix originals and acquisitions get a limited theatrical release prior to their streaming premiere, mostly as a way to qualify for the Academy Awards and endear themselves to old-school talent that still cares about theatrical distribution.
When theaters began to open in mid-to-late summer sans the promised post-Tenet blockbusters, streaming films (Netflix’s Mank, AppleTV’s On the Rocks, etc.) picked up some of the slack. Had theaters been safely open in California, I would have happily waited to see George Clooney’s sci-fi fable The Midnight Sky (and Paul Greengrass’s Tom Hanks western News of the World) on the biggest screen I could find. That said, Army of the Dead is not an Oscar-bait flick, and it’s debuting in theaters and on streaming concurrently.
I won’t pretend to guestimate the theatrical footprint, nor will I presume to know whether Netflix will release box office numbers (probably not). But the movie is opening on May 21, which is the very same pre-Memorial Day weekend slot that A) is usually one of the best Fri-Sun frames of the year and B) thus far has no releases whatsoever. Depending on how wide it goes, Army of the Dead could be, by default, the first theatrical “biggie” of the 2021 summer movie season.
No, it won’t be the first film of summer, as that honor goes to Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham’s Wrath of Man (May 7) or Chris Rock, Angelina Jolie’s Those Who Wish Me Dead (May 14) and Samuel L. Jackson’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw (May 14). But in terms of big-budget fare, Army of the Dead will open a week before Walt Disney’s Cruella and Paramount’s (under-$40 million but likely to be a huge hit in normal circumstances) A Quiet Place part II on May 28.
Unless something “big” moves into mid-May, the “big” summer kick-off movie will be a Netflix-bound, Zack Snyder-directed zombie action movie. As for the movie itself, it’s intended to launch a franchise including a prequel and an animated episodic spin-off. It would be ideal for the filmmaker if this becomes his proverbial franchise sandbox. Think Ridley Scott’s Alien, George Lucas’ Star Wars or James Cameron’s Avatar, allowing him to do what he wants in his own sandbox without caring about commercial expectations or divided fan loyalties related to an existing IP.
I don’t know if the post-pandemic “new normal” will see more streaming features from more streaming sites sharing multiplex space with major studio theatrical movies, but I imagine the last year has removed at least some of the theaters’ bargaining power and/or reluctance to allow such a thing. After all, a large popcorn purchased during Army of the Dead costs the same as one purchased during Cruella. Come what may, Army of the Dead opens and debuts in theaters and Netflix on May 21. Peninsula is available now on Shudder.
From filmmaker Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), ARMY OF THE DEAD takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. With little left to lose, Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.
Starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Samantha Win, Michael Cassidy, Richard Cetrone, and Garret Dillahunt.