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Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson star as stranded astronauts in the sci-fi epic Moonfall.Lionsgate

This weekend, the new end-of-the-world movie Moonfall is set to dominate the box office.

Directed by Roland Emmerich, the disaster-porn artist behind Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, Moonfall looks gloriously trash-tacular. It features a curious collection of stars (Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, Donald Sutherland), a head-shaking plot (a “mysterious force” has knocked the moon from its orbit and sent it hurtling toward Earth!), and a beautifully absurd tagline (“In 2022, humanity will face the dark side of the Moon.”)

For Canadians finally allowed back into theatres after yet another round of shutdowns – Ontario cinemas reopened this past Monday, while Quebec venues welcome audiences back next Monday – Moonfall sounds like the perfect no-brain-required entertainment for a dead-of-winter night out. Especially given that there isn’t much else on offer at multiplexes, with Omicron-wary studios having largely abandoned January.

The only problem: Moonfall is not opening at any Canadian theatre this weekend. Nor will it be available on-demand. Moonfall is simply bypassing Canadian audiences entirely. And with a US$140-million production budget and huge launch across U.S. screens, it is the biggest release to ever do so.

This past Friday, Allied Global Marketing, which had been responsible for Moonfall’s Canadian marketing in an arrangement with the film’s domestic distributor Mongrel Media, confirmed to The Globe and Mail that both companies were no longer handling the movie’s release. Up until that point, Moonfall had been an active concern: Mongrel posted trailers on its Facebook page as early as this past September, and the film was listed as opening Feb. 4 on the website of Cineplex, the country’s largest exhibitor. Posters were up in theatres, and Mongrel’s Twitter account promised an experience “only in theatres and IMAX” (tweets that, as of this writing, are still online).

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So: What happened? Blame the Ontario and Quebec governments, says Canadian film industry veteran Victor Loewy.

Since 2019, Loewy, the former chief executive officer of Alliance Films, has been the leader behind a deal struck between Mongrel, Cineplex and Lionsgate Entertainment to jointly handle the Canadian theatrical distribution of films either acquired or produced by Lionsgate, including Moonfall.

“The story is that three or four weeks before a release, we have to push the button to buy advertising: TV, newspapers, online, billboards. On a film like Moonfall, we’re looking at millions of dollars,” Loewy said in an interview. “In Ontario, no one was saying a word about reopening, and in Quebec it was worse. We were in complete darkness. At some point, you have to make a decision.”

Loewy said Mongrel already spent $150,000 to advertise Moonfall last year. But given that Quebec shuttered theatres Dec. 20, and Ontario closed cinemas two weeks later, with no firm guarantee as to a reopening date in either province, the gamble of committing to further promotional spending was too risky.

“At Christmas, we had American Underdog, and a few before that release, Quebec shut down. We took a big loss. So this is the way it’s playing out,” Loewy said.

The only major 2022 movie to so far be theatrically released in Canada has been the new Scream film, which Paramount Pictures’ Canadian arm distributed in whichever regions were open Jan. 14. (Paramount’s Jackass Forever arrives in theatres this weekend, as well.) But according to Loewy, the size and uncertainty of Ontario and Quebec’s markets made the situation too risky for Moonfall.

“Ontario and Quebec represent 70 per cent of Canada’s box office, and the provinces that are open still have major restrictions on capacity,” he said.

Moonfall will not be available in Canada through video-on-demand or streaming, either – at least, not immediately. Instead, Moonfall’s Canadian home-entertainment release will abide by however long Lionsgate’s theatrical window winds up being in the United States. (Comparable Lionsgate titles, such as last year’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife, took 45 days to move from the big screen to VOD.) Also, the process of pivoting from theatrical to digital is not akin to simply flipping a switch. Distributors’ VOD partners such as Apple TV and Rogers require deliveries of digital files at least 30 days before scheduled release dates.

The absence of Moonfall – which, in a delicious smack of irony, was filmed in Montreal – is a blow for Canadian audiences looking for big-screen escapism. But the move will also surely wound domestic theatre owners, who are already dealing with myriad public-health restrictions, a cautious consumer base, and few enticing new releases.

“It came as a surprise to us, but it just falls under the guise of the current state of the theatrical market in Canada,” said Landmark Cinemas CEO Bill Walker, who found out about Moonfall’s exit this past Thursday, just a week before its scheduled release. “We’re running the business on pretty lean product right now, but more movies are trickling in.”

As for speculation on social media that Moonfall was pulled because of a financial dispute between Mongrel and exhibitors over the box office percentage that the distributor was demanding – theatres and distributors typically split ticket sales 50/50 – all parties involved say that is not the case.

“That’s absolutely not even close,” Loewy said. “At Alliance, we handled Lionsgate titles for 20 years or so, and nothing’s changed.”

Sarah Van Lange, vice-president of communications for Cineplex, also said there was no truth to the rumour, adding in a statement that, “We were disappointed to learn that a Canadian theatrical release of Moonfall wasn’t part of the studio’s plans.”

Loewy said that the Moonfall situation is an outlier for the Mongrel-Lionsgate slate. There are no plans to alter any of the company’s coming 2022 Lionsgate releases, including the new Nicolas Cage film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which is scheduled to open in Canadian theatres April 22.

But the predicament cannot exactly be comforting for Canadian moviegoers, especially when compounded by the news this week that another pending Hollywood release, the Channing Tatum vehicle Dog, is also skipping this country’s theatres. (It is no longer being released by Canadian distributor Elevation Pictures. Currently, U.S. distributor MGM has the film scheduled to open stateside Feb. 18, though a studio representative did not immediately reply to a query from The Globe.)

“I’m always a bit nervous with what’s happening with release schedules, but the trajectory of the pandemic lends itself to more certainty there than not,” added Landmark’s Walker. “If we look at the U.S. and Europe, we can see where the pandemic restrictions are going, where consumer confidence is going. Those are encouraging global signs for us.”

Eventually, mercifully, Canadians will be able to discover just why Moonfall star Patrick Wilson is compelled in the film’s trailer to utter the already immortal line, “If the moon really is what you think it is ... suit up!”

But until then, the only disaster we have to enjoy is the Canadian movie industry itself.

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