10 Best Movies That Bombed During the Pandemic

10 Best Movies That Bombed During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted Hollywood in tangible ways. Movies were delayed, unreleased, or went straight to streaming services. In the grand scheme of the pandemic’s chaos, this was certainly a low priority. This being said, some great movies were lost in the shuffle. Some of these movies could have become contenders for awards. Others could have been destined to become cult classics with a group of devoted fans.

Some movies, like Birds of Prey, had their theatrical runs end prematurely due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Others, like Judas and the Black Messiah, had a fairly muted theatrical release and awards run while achieving critical acclaim. Many movies missed out on box office revenue due to COVID-19 restrictions and lost out on the opportunity to build fan bases organically over the course of a theatrical run before being released on streaming services.

10 ‘Freaky’ (2020)

Directed by Christopher Landon

Millie standing in an empty room and holding a hook in Freaky.
Image Via Blumhouse

Freaky is a slasher movie starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, and Katie Finneran. The movie follows four teenagers as they uncover the mystery of a serial killer called The Blissfield Butcher. In the course of this horror story, one of the teenagers switches bodies with this serial killer. Freaky is a slasher twist on Freaky Friday. Chaos ensues as they make their best efforts to switch their bodies back.

Freaky premiered at Beyond Fest in October 2020, when many pandemic restrictions were still in place. While the movie did have a theatrical run, it was muted like many others from this time. Slashers like Freaky, particularly ones with unique premises, typically find their audience over time. The combination of comedy and horror could have also appealed to a wider audience if it had been in theatres longer. Additionally, Freaky could have been a much bigger success during the 2020 Halloween season.

9 ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ (2019)

Directed by Armando Iannucci

Dev Patel holding an hat and smiling while looking off-camera in Personal History of David Copperfield.
Image via Searchlight Pictures

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a comedy-drama based on the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. The movie follows Dickens’ famous protagonist, David Copperfield (Dev Patel), through his horrifying childhood and growth into adulthood. The Personal History of David Copperfield initially premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and was released theatrically in the UK on January 24, 2020. By the time it was released theatrically in North America, it underperformed.

Dev Patel is delightful as this protagonist who has enthralled generations of readers. The Personal History of David Copperfield ultimately puts a new and modern spin on a beloved classic that could have found an audience in fans of Dickens, as well as fans of modern, fictional takes on history, like Bridgerton. This movie distills everything that made the original so poignant and impactful, which could have endeared it to a much wider audience.

8 ‘News of the World’ (2020)

Directed by Paul Greengrass

Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel in News of the World
Image via Universal Pictures

Another Tom Hanks historical drama impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, News of the World, is based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Giles. It follows a Civil War veteran who travels from town to town, reading people the news. The movie was the international debut of German actress Helena Zengel. News of the World was released theatrically on December 25, 2020, before being released on Netflix on February 10, 2021. At the time of its theatrical release, many COVID-19 restrictions were still in place.

Westerns remain incredibly popular among modern audiences, as evidenced by the success of such properties as the Yellowstone franchise. News of the World could have capitalized on this and had a successful theatrical run before being released on a streaming service. The movie received several nominations at the 93rd Academy Awards. News of the World could also have found an audience among fans of historical dramas.

7 ‘Bloodshot’ (2020)

Directed by David S. F. Wilson

Vin Diesel in Bloodshot (2020) staring at the camera
Image via Sony Pictures

Bloodshot is a superhero movie starring Vin Diesel that was released theatrically on March 13, 2020, the same weekend that many of the first COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions came into effect. The movie is based on the Valiant comics featuring the character of the same name. The character is a US Marine who becomes a superhero. While generally critically panned, Bloodshot featured notable action sequences and visual effects.

Bloodshot may or may not have received the same critical response if not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could have found an audience among fans of the superhero genre. Vin Diesel has a dedicated fan base that could have propelled this movie through a theatrical release. Bloodshot also could have joined the ranks of movies that are so-bad-they’re-good, which could have given it more attention. The fact that this movie isn’t a Marvel or DC movie could have been a welcome shake-up to the superhero genre.


Release Date
March 13, 2020

109 minutes


6 ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ (2021)

Directed by Shaka King

Image via Warner Bros.

Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya as activist Fred Hampton. The story follows Hampton and his leadership in the Black Panthers. The biopic details the FBI plot to infiltrate the Black Panthers and gain information about Hampton. The movie was released in person and virtually as part of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It was originally scheduled to be released in August 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

While Daniel Kaluuya has succeeded as a horror star, Judas and the Black Messiah showcased his talent as a dramatic actor. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, won two, and was a critical success. As the movie was released during a time when there were some COVID-19 restrictions in effect, it is possible that it would have been seen by even more people in theaters. The fact that Judas and the Black Messiah was nominated for several awards could have boosted its theatrical run.

5 ‘Respect’ (2021)

Directed by Liesl Tommy

Jennifer Hudson looking to her right in Respect.
Image via MGM

Respect is a biopic and musical drama that chronicles the life and career of Aretha Franklin. Jennifer Hudson stars as the musical legend, adding to her acting credits. The movie follows Franklin over the first three decades of her life. The story chronicles the tragedies and adversity that Franklin faced throughout her life, as well as how her career evolved and how she came into her own. Respect was initially scheduled to be released at the end of 2020 and was ultimately released in August 2021.

Biographical dramas like Respect often receive mixed to positive reviews, since it is so difficult to capture the complexities of a real person’s life accurately. However, Hudson’s strong performance could have given this movie an even larger audience. Respect‘s short theatrical run made it difficult for the movie to find its fans. In a non-pandemic context, Hudson’s star power could have carried this movie further than it was able to go.


4 ‘The Vast of Night’ (2019)

Directed by Andrew Patterson

Sierra McCormick operating a radio switchboard in The Vast of Night
Image via Amazon Studios

The Vast of Night is a science fiction drama starring Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz. The movie follows the story of two teenagers in the 1950s who try to decipher the mystery of a mysterious radio signal. The Vale of Night premiered at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival and had a limited theatrical release before being released on Prime Video. The movie received critical acclaim for its unique story and compelling performances.

While The Vast of Night has found a streaming fan base on Prime Video, it’s possible it could have become a larger hit outside the COVID-19 pandemic. Smaller, unique movies like this one often find passionate fans. A wider theatrical release could have given The Vale of Night even more momentum and could have shone a spotlight on the talent involved in this project. COVID-19 restrictions limited the ability of this movie to be discovered by a wider audience.

The Vast of Night (2019)

Release Date
May 29, 2020

Andrew Patterson

Sierra McCormick , Jake Horowitz

89 minutes


3 ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ (2020)

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

The cast of The Trial of the Chicago 7 seated at the defense table in the courtroom
Image via Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 chronicles the true story of anti-Vietnam War protesters who faced multiple legal charges related to their activism. The movie was originally scheduled to be released in September 2020 for a limited theatrical run. Netflix acquired the rights and released it on October 16, 2020. The movie features a typical Aaron Sorkin script and story and builds tension in the context of the courtroom.

While The Trial of the Chicago 7 achieved critical success and was nominated for several Academy Awards, its straight-to-streaming release limited its overall success among audiences. This is another example of a movie that was nominated for several awards during awards season, which could have leveraged this to attract theater audiences. The star-studded ensemble, combined with the compelling historical drama, could have given the movie a successful theatrical run.


2 ‘Tenet’ (2020)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

John David Washington wearing a mask in Tenet
Image via Warner Bros. 

Tenet is a sci-fi thriller starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson. The movie is a wild-web of a story that has director Christopher Nolan‘s signature cerebral feel. Its timeline is a wild ride, and the first and second halves are inverted. Tenet was originally scheduled for a July 2020 release, but it was pushed back several times. This was one of the first movies to be released theatrically in the United States following the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions. Tenet‘s gross of over $350 million is not to be ignored, but it was a disappointment nonetheless (Nolan’s lowest grosser in well over a decade), especially considering it didn’t break $60 million domestically.

There is a lot to love about Tenet‘s mind-bending story. Although the movie achieved box office success after the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions, it was tailor-made for summer box office success. This movie could possibly have made even more at the box office with a summer release. The intense online discussion that surrounded Tenet could very well have gained even more traction had the movie been a summer tentpole.


Release Date
August 22, 2020


1 ‘Birds of Prey’ (2020)

Directed by Cathy Yan

Jurnee Smollett and Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey (2020)
Image via IMBD

Birds of Prey is a superhero movie that expanded the DCEU. The movie expands Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) story and her journey to recover from her break-up with the Joker and rebuild her life with new friends. Birds of Prey also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, and Ella Jay Basco. The movie was released theatrically at the beginning of 2020 before being released digitally in March 2020 in the midst of theater closures.

While Birds of Prey achieved critical and box office success, its shortened theatrical run did the movie a disservice. This movie could have brought in even more viewers who weren’t superhero fans, particularly women and girls, since the story featured stories of fun and complex women. Additionally, a longer theatrical run could have allowed existing DC fans more time to appreciate the story and how important it is to the franchise. Birds of Prey remains an underrated superhero movie and an integral part of the DCEU.

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