After a year of closed movie theaters, Hollywood is in panic mode, with competition getting fierce for entertainment dollars. In the bygone days of 2019, film studios regularly saw billion-dollar box office receipts for one movie. Now they’re plotting how to get people back into cinema temples and return the entertainment industry to pre-pandemic prosperity. But will it?
Audiences have grown accustomed to weekends at home with an ever-expanding array of streaming services, including Discovery Plus and Paramount Plus, which just launched. Global entertainment companies want to have their cake and eat it too. They’re hoping to get consumers to restart their moviegoing routine, while also happy to take monthly streaming subscription fees.
To reach consumers eager to revisit the multiplex, along with past moviegoers uncertain about COVID-19 factors, studios are employing hybrid strategies. Big-budget releases will appear on both streaming platforms and in theaters — such as animated fantasy flick “Raya and the Last Dragon” (on Disney Plus), monster battle epic “Godzilla Vs. Kong” (HBO Max), and Eddie Murphy comedy vehicle “Coming 2 America” (Amazon Prime).
All these new platforms and options mean a few titles haven’t received the wide attention and advertising dollars of bigger tentpole movies. Here are seven intriguing films and TV series coming this month that you might have missed.
Coming to Theaters
“The Courier” (March 19)
When the Cuban Missile Crisis loomed, unassuming Welsh salesman Greville Wynne helped ease international tensions through his actions as an amateur spy. Cold War drama “The Courier” features Benedict Cumberbatch (“Doctor Strange,” “Sherlock”) as Wynne and Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) in a narrative based on several historical sources.
In 1960, at the behest of UK spy agency MI-6 and the CIA, Wynne is recruited as a covert operative who trades top-secret information with Russian double agents. Tensions with his wife grow as he is caught up in dangerous international intrigue. The film has received significant buzz since its Sundance premiere.
“Operation Varsity Blues” (March 17)
In March 2019, U.S. authorities indicted 50 people in the largest college admissions fraud case ever prosecuted. Their investigation uncovered how wealthy parents — including several prominent CEOs along with actresses Lori Loughlin and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman — had conspired to ensure their children were accepted into elite universities on sports scholarships.
Filmmaker Chris Smith, known for past docs “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and “Tiger King,” uncovers the story in the docudrama “Operation Varsity Blues.” It retraces the years-long con — and how the FBI accidentally discovered it — through first-person interviews as well as dramatized segments featuring Matthew Modine (“Full Metal Jacket”) who portrays Rick Singer, the criminal mastermind of the $25 million bribery scandal.
“A Week Away” (March 26)
It’s hard to believe Netflix landed this particular family flick, depicting a squeaky-clean “High School Musical”-format song-and-dance story that takes place at a faith-driven summer camp. The soundtrack plays on millennials’ nostalgia, featuring remixed 1980s and ’90s Christian radio hits “Place In This World,” “The Great Adventure,” “Big House,” and Amy Grant’s “Baby, Baby.”
The film comes via actor-producer Alan Powell, formerly a series regular on ABC’s “Quantico” and, before that, singer-songwriter for Christian band Anthem Lights. Powell, longtime Hollywood producer Steve Barnett, and investor Vicky Patel recently partnered to form Monarch Media, with “A Week Away” as their first film project. The musical features up-and-coming stars Kevin Quinn (“Bunk’d”) and Bailee Madison (“Brothers,” “Once Upon A Time”).
“Genius: Aretha” (March 22)
The life of church choirgirl-turned-“Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, who died three years ago, will be recounted in two very different onscreen projects this year. The major motion picture “Respect” will land in theaters this August featuring the actress Franklin hand-picked to play her, Jennifer Hudson.
Meanwhile, this month National Geographic continues its award-winning dramatic anthology series “Genius” which is an eight-part television event focused on the black gospel singer. Cynthia Erivo, who wowed audiences in 2019 with her turn as Harriet Tubman, depicts the top-selling recording artist in a narrative that navigates her personal and professional life.
“Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story” (March 1)
Even savvy media consumers often pass over the many free TV options available. Leaping on to ad-supported streaming services such as Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi, and IMDB TV can mean wading through low-quality or irrelevant programs, and, with commercials part of the deal, it hardly seems a step up from typical channel surfing.
An entertaining five-part docuseries, “Playing With Power” has depth worth seeking out. Narrated by Sean Astin (“The Lord of the Rings”), this fast-paced take on the evolving gaming industry provides insights through a laser focus on dominant player Nintendo. Interviews with insiders bring to light conflicts like their rift with Sony — and subsequent market share loss to PlayStation — as well as recent resurgence thanks to innovations including “Pokémon Go.”
On Disney Plus
“The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” (March 26)
Reboots of nostalgia franchises rule family entertainment, which may not be all bad if the storytelling has enough twists to keep it fresh. In this ten-episode TV series that follows up on Disney’s hit sports trilogy, Lauren Graham (“Parenthood,” “Gilmore Girls”) stars as a hockey mom whose son was cut from the now-dominant Mighty Ducks team. She sets out to start an upstart rival, enlisting former Coach Gordon Bombay (franchise star Emilio Estevez).
As youth sports grow more competitive, kids today feel added pressures to perform — themes that this show picks up. Speaking recently to TV critics, showrunner Josh Goldsmith said: “The underdogs are those kids in the world who are told that if you can’t be a nationally ranked champion by age 12, then give it up and don’t bother playing.” With lessons on playing for the love of the game, new episodes premiere Fridays on Disney Plus starting March 26.
“Own the Room” (March 12)
In what might be called “Shark Tank” for college students, young leaders from more than 50 countries compete to receive a $100,000 grand prize grant at the 2019 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. This ambitious documentary follows students in five different countries, all bringing inventions, innovations, and new enterprises to market to solve real-world problems.
Despite its global scope, “Own the Room” manages to intimately introduce each student’s story and family, making viewers root for each one. After a year when economies worldwide were decimated, the stories of these student entrepreneurs provide a spark of hope.