Timeline of Greatest Film
Milestones and Turning Points
in Film History

The Year 2020

Timeline of Greatest Film History Milestones and Turning Points
(by decade and year)
Introduction | Pre-1900s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s
1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s | 2020s
2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024

The Year 2020
Event and Significance
Legendary actor, director and producer Kirk Douglas passed away at the age of 103. His film debut was in the film noirish The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) opposite Barbara Stanwyck. He went on to become a famous movie star after his breakthrough film as boxer Midge Kelly in Champion (1949) (with his first Academy Award Best Actor nomination), followed up by Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) (with his second Best Actor nomination) portraying a corrupt movie executive, Lust for Life (1956) (his third and final nomination) as troubled artist Van Gogh, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and two of his biggest hits, Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).
The corona-virus pandemic caused havoc for the film industry - and one thing was certain. The changes that immediately affected the industry were definitely going to outlast the pandemic, and extend into coming years:

(1) Movie theatre closures went into effect throughout the world, and in the US, by the major chains, including AMC and Regal (owning Cinemark and Cineworld). Most of the major theater chains were on the verge of bankruptcy, and a lot of the smaller, independent theaters wouldn't survive. Movie theaters spent thousands on COVID-safety protocols, but then were burnt when further lock-downs prevented reopening plans.

(2) Hollywood studios were forced to postpone the releases of blockbuster movies and to drastically alter production schedules around the world; for example, the 25th Bond film, No Time to Die (2021), was postponed from an April 2020 and eventually premiered on September 30, 2021 (in the UK) and October 8, 2021 (in the US). Many other of 2020's biggest releases were moved out of summer's most lucrative months and into the fall or into the new year, including Disney's March release of Mulan (2020) (postponed numerous times and then released September 2020 on Disney+ for a $29.99 rental fee) and Black Widow (2021) (now scheduled for May 2021).

(3) Film shoots and productions were particularly susceptible to restrictions, including advisories against gatherings of groups, and a number of them were halted, altered, or shut down; a Mission-Impossible 7 (2021) film shoot in Venice, Italy by Paramount was halted in late February, and Disney announced that production on its live-action movies would suspend production until further notice (its live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, a Home-Alone reboot to premiere on Disney+, and Peter Pan now rescheduled to March 2021). A number of films planned by the traditional studios to be theatrical releases were sold off or repackaged as streaming alternatives, or they would be offered for home viewing just a few weeks after a theatrical debut. A major distribution and exhibition shakeup was in the works.

(4) After a number of media companies, including Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, pulled out of this year's SXSW film and TV festival, the city of Austin, Texas cancelled the festival altogether for the first time in its 32-year history.

(5) Some Hollywood studios moved a number of their mid-budget movies out of theaters and onto their burgeoning streaming services. NBC Universal announced that it would make some movies available for rent digitally the same day they were released in movie theaters that remained open, including the horror film The Hunt (2020), The Invisible Man (2020), and Emma. (2020).

(6) The major media companies including Disney, WarnerMedia, Viacom and Comcast devoted considerable attention to their subscription or streaming programming offerings, and the streaming wars heated up considerably against Netflix and Amazon.

(7) After being the first studio to release its films digitally on a higher price point PVOD (Premium Video on Demand) at the beginning of the pandemic, Universal struck a deal with AMC Theaters over shorter windows. Under the new arrangement, Universal and Focus Features releases would play at AMC Theaters for 17 days (or a movie's 3rd weekend instead of the customary 60-75 days) before they could also debut on PVOD digital platforms. In exchange, the deal gave
AMC an undisclosed cut of the on-demand PVOD rental proceeds for a set period of time. (At the time, AMC controlled about one-quarter of the 40,000 screens in the United States.) By November, the studio had made a similar deal with AMC’s rival, Cinemark.
Due to the coronavirus, eligibility requirements and dates for upcoming awards shows for 2021 were modified: Golden Globes (nominations on February 3, awards show on February 28), the Oscars (nominations on March 15, 2021, show on April 25, 2021). The 93rd Oscars were originally set to broadcast on Feb. 28, 2021, but then the Academy extended its cut-off for eligibility to February 28, and pushed back the ceremony by two months due to nation-wide theater closures and release alterations in the wake of COVID-19.
There were a number of firsts in the Academy Award nominations for 2020 films. In the Best Director category, it was the first time that more than one woman was nominated for that prize in the awards' 93-year history: Chinese director Chloe Zhao for Nomadland (2020), and British director Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman (2020). And it was the first time that two Asian filmmakers were nominated in the Best Director category in the same year. Zhao became the first woman of Asian descent (and the first "woman of color") to be nominated for Best Director. She also became the first woman to ever receive four Oscar nominations in a single year, and just the 9th person to ever earn that much recognition in a single ceremony.
In terms of the Academy Awards' 20 acting nominations, it was the most diverse Oscars ever, with 9 of the 20 acting nominees of color (and/or from ethnic-minority backgrounds), as follows: Best Actor (2), Best Actress (2), Best Supporting Actor (3), and Best Supporting Actress (2). Six nominees were black performers. Only 4 acting nominees were white Americans: Frances McDormand, Paul Raci, Glenn Close, and Amanda Seyfried. With Anthony Hopkins' Best Actor nomination for The Father (2020), he became the oldest Best Actor nominee of all time, surpassing 79 year-old Richard Farnsworth for The Straight Story (1999). With Riz Ahmed's nomination for Sound of Metal (2020), he became the first Muslim (and first of Pakistani descent) Best Actor nominee. With South Korean actor Steven Yeun's nomination for Minari (2020), he became the first Asian-American nominee for Best Actor. In the Best Actress category, it was the first time since 1972 that two black women were nominated in Best Actress in the same year (Viola Davis for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020), and Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020)). With her nomination, Viola Davis became the most-nominated black actress in Oscars' history, with four nominations (two in lead, and two in supporting). She also became the first black actress ever to have earned more than one Best Actress Oscar nomination. In the Best Supporting Actor category, three nominees were black actors. Two were competing nominees for Judas and the Black Messiah (2020) - Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith (Keith) Stanfield. The double nomination marked just the 11th time in Oscars history that two people from the same film were nominated in the category. 73 year-old Glenn Close's nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for Hillbilly Elegy (2020) made her the 2nd person to have received 8 acting Oscar nominations without a win (joining Peter O’Toole). With her 8th Oscar nomination, Glenn Close became the living actress with second most nominations after Meryl Streep. And with South Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung's nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Minari (2020), she became the first Korean nominee in an Oscar acting category (lead or supporting).
The Academy Awards Oscars for 2020 films produced a number of firsts. Nomadland (2020) won Best Picture, and its 38 year-old director Chloe Zhao was the first woman of Asian descent (and the first "woman of color") to be nominated for Best Director and the first Asian female to win the film-making Oscar. Zhao also became the second woman to ever win Best Director at the Academy Awards, following Kathryn Bigelow's win for The Hurt Locker (2009). She also became the third Asian person to win Best Director, after Ang Lee's two wins for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Life of Pi (2012), and Bong Joon-ho's win for Parasite (2019). With actress Frances McDormand's Best Actress Oscar win for her role as nomadic van-dweller Fern in Nomadland, she became the only actress in Oscar history to have three Best Actress Oscars - only one other actress had four (Katharine Hepburn); she even surpassed Meryl Streep who has only two Best Actress Oscars; McDormand also received a shared nomination (and win) as co-producer for the film; with her nomination for this film, she became only the 4th actor to have nominations across five decades.
Other notable firsts for the Academy Awards for 2020 films: With Anthony Hopkins' Best Actor win for The Father (2020), he became the oldest Best Actor winner of all time, surpassing 76 year-old Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond (1981). With South Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn's win for Minari (2020), she became the second East Asian Best Supporting Actress winner following Miyoshi Umeki (a win for Sayonara (1957)).
By the end of May 2020, it was predicted that the coronavirus accounted for a global box-office loss of approximately $17 billion in the film industry. By the end of the year, the predicted number had basically doubled. The global cinema industry was set to lose $32 billion in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a 71.5% reduction in box office revenue compared to 2019. On the flip side, online transactional and subscription video revenue was set to increase by 30% year-on-year from 2019’s $26 billion to $34 billion in 2020.
Domestic box-office revenue for 2020 was about $2.3 billion, down roughly 80 percent from 2019, which ended up at $11.4 billion. It was the lowest showing since the early 1980s, if not the late 1970s (a 40 year low), and the figure wasn't even adjusted for inflation. Foreign ticket sales were about $9 billion due to a faster recovery of Asian markets including China, Japan and South Korea. Last year in 2019, global ticket sales hit a record $42.5 billion, but in 2020, it was down at least 70 percent.
The sixth installment in the franchise, Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) (scheduled for release in the summer of 2022) was the first major production to resume filming after coronavirus forced film sets to shut down. Many studios took drastic and expensive measures to ensure that their sets were coronavirus free.
Although expected to be released on September 27th, 2020, now Universal's The Hunt (2020) will be released in mid-March of 2021. The controversial film was about wealthy, liberal elite Americans hunting 'deplorables' for sport. Following recent mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, President Trump pressured the studio to not release the film, and it was cancelled at the time.
After a year of existence, Disney+ had turned out to be an unparalleled success for the Walt Disney Company. The service now had 86.8 million subscribers, just under the 90 million goal they set for 2024. In comparison, Netflix had 190 million subscribers including 73 million in the U.S.
Bad Boys for Life (2020), the third installment of the franchise, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, was the highest-grossing movie at the 2020 domestic box office, with $206.3 million, and $426.5 million worldwide.
The highest-grossing worldwide film of 2020 was The Eight Hundred (2020, China), with $461.4 million worldwide. This marked the first time since 2007 that the top-grossing film of a given year earned less than $1 billion. The film performed extremely poorly in the US/Canada with only $373,000 dollars.
In the wake of mass protests over police behavior and accusations of racism, the HBO Max streaming service temporarily removed the classic Civil War historical drama-romance Gone with the Wind (1939) from its library of offerings. An unnamed spokesman was quoted: "Gone with the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible." Fortunately, it was stated that once returned to the lineup, the movie would remain untouched or edited "because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed....If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history." Re-screenings were promised to include information about the film's historical context.

Notwithstanding the current claims about the film, it stands historically as the highest-grossing film of all-time (adjusted for inflation). It has been an important and valuable part of American history for eight decades, and one of the defining films of Hollywood's Golden Age. It was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. The Best Picture-winning film excelled in many categories (production design, directing cinematography, and acting - including Hattie McDaniel's Best Supporting Actress win for her many-layered portrayal of 'Mammy' - she became the first African-American performer to be nominated and win).

[Note: There will always be 'outdated' or less than ideal cultural depictions (with misogynistic, sexist, anti-gay, and racially-insensitive or other outdated content) in films or other art forms going back decades. To particularly apply 21st century cultural standards of the current time to these creations from earlier times is unrealistic, ill-suited and counter-productive, and would mean banishing or restricting hundreds and hundreds of films (AND books, music and art as well) that have a lot to teach us about where we came from. Disclaimers, statements of context, and various guidelines or ratings may be implemented and have some limited impact, but for most savvy film-goers, they are able to self-educate about what to learn from a film, and whether to watch (or not watch) and discuss with others - they can make up their own minds. Temporary bans and selective censorship or pronouncements are not necessary.]
In mid-June of 2020, Variety Magazine (byline Tim Gray, Senior VP) went further in calls for disclaimers for movie viewing in an article entitled: "10 Problematic Films That Could Use Warning Labels." Two of the ten films listed were Best Picture Oscar winners. It cited Dirty Harry (1971) for its depiction of vigilantism and disrespect for the law, Forrest Gump (1994) for its condescension to those who protest or are activists, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) for its stereotyped depiction of the evil Indian cult members, Me Before You (2016) for its endorsement of suicide over disability, Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) for its regressive message, The Children's Hour (1961) for the pairing of suicide with lesbian feelings, John Ford's classic western The Searchers (1956) for its racist and bigoted character (portrayed by John Wayne after a Comanche Indian massacre of his brother's family), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) for the "trans" characteristics of the Buffalo Bill character, the Christmas classic Holiday Inn (1942) for its often-deleted scene of Bing Crosby singing "Abraham" (honoring Lincoln's birthday) in blackface, and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film True Lies (1994) for its Arabic terrorists/villains.

The author also briefly cited five other problematic, 'racist' films in his introduction: D.W. Griffith's Civil War epic The Birth of a Nation (1915), Disney's Song of the South (1946) - out of circulation, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) for Mickey Rooney's role as a bucktoothed, Japanese photographer-neighbor Mr. Yunioshi, West Side Story (1961) for its Puerto Rican gang members, and the slave drama Mandingo (1975) for its salacious, exploitational content.

Virtually all of the responses in the comments section of the article slammed the author for his "lunacy" and "woke garbage," and were very blunt in their criticisms: ("Stop shoving your nonsense down our throats!," "The height of stupidity," "Utterly moronic nonsense," "I'm flabbergasted by the pretend naivety of it," and "It is amazing people can be this dumb and this sensitive.") The comments were almost universally critical of the article's author who was seen as narrow-minded, idiotic, insulting to a movie-viewing audience, and small-minded - akin to a book-burner or even to Nazi censorship ("The NAZIs tried to erase everything that they thought went against their thinking"). One comment put it very succinctly: "This piece is more offensive than the films it tries to 'put in perspective'!...Are we all children who are incapable of making our own judgments?...Time to grow up, I would say, and break free from the 'thought' control, as well-intentioned (or not) as it might seem." Another proposed putting a stop to this kind of self-destructive thinking: "We don’t need a Big Brother. We need history in all its forms. History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from. And if it offends you even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it. It's not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us."
As evidence of how far in-roads were being made in Hollywood toward enforced diversity, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) announced its new requirements for Best Picture eligibility. Before the year 2024, Best Picture candidates were to be required to submit a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards Form to be considered eligible, in order to be prepared for stricter and required standards in the year 2024 (the 96th Oscar year). By then, films competing for Best Picture could only qualify by meeting various inclusion standards (both on-camera and behind the scenes). A film had to meet two of four standards:

Standard A: On-Screen Representation Component: (a film was required to meet one of three alternatives)
(1) Lead or Significant Supporting Actors: at least one of the Lead Actors or a Significant Supporting Actor had to be from an under-represented racial or ethnic group
(2) The General Ensemble Cast: 30% percent of all actors in secondary or more minor roles had to be from two of the following categories: women, LGBTQ, an under-represented racial or ethnic group, or those with cognitive or physical disabilities
(3) The Main Storyline or Subject Matter: the main story line was centered on an under-represented group

Standard B: Off-Screen Creative Leadership and Project Team Component: (a film was required to meet one of three alternatives)
(1) Creative Leadership and Department Heads: at least two Creative Leadership positions and Department Heads had to be held by members of under-represented groups
(2) Other Key Roles: at least six other crew/team and technical positions (excluding Production Assistants) had to be held by members of an under-represented racial or ethnic group
(3) Overall Crew Composition: at least 30% of the film’s crew had to be held by members of under-represented groups

Standard C: Industry Access and Opportunities: (a film was required to meet both of the two alternatives)
(1) Paid Apprenticeship and Internship Opportunities: these had to be available for members of under-represented groups
(2) Training and Skills Development (Crew) Opportunities: these had to be available for members of under-represented groups

Standard D: Audience Development: (a film was required to meet the one alternative)
(1) Representation in Marketing, Publicity, and Distribution: a studio's in-house senior executives in the Marketing, Publicity and Distribution departments had to be held by people from under-represented groups

There were many criticisms of the controversial new standards when announced, mainly that they created quotas and were exclusive (and discriminatory in the opposite direction), not inclusive. The new criteria were not based on skill, talent, job qualifications, creativity, or other artistic standards, but solely on race, ethnicity or gender. And the standards were another disguised form of censorship. Some questioned why the standards were only applied to one category - Best Picture (some called for renaming the Oscar category "Most Diverse Picture"). Others objected to AMPAS dictating or imposing this kind of creative mandate - the manner in which film-making was to be conducted, or defining the actual story-content. It was argued that the film industry itself should institute more genuine changes and initiatives to give more opportunities and encourage diversity. Some felt that foreign language films or historical period pieces might suffer from such standards.
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University confirmed that 16% of the top-100 grossing films released in 2020 were directed by women. This was the highest percentage of female directors of all time. In previous years, the numbers were lower: (2019 - at 12%) and (2018 - at 4%). The change from previous years may be somewhat attributable to changes in release schedules due to the virus.
The release of Disney's Mulan (2020), a live-action version of their 1998 animated film about a heroic Chinese girl, sparked sharp criticism of the studio from human rights activists, lawmakers (specifically Sen. Josh Hawley of MO), and even shareholders. The film (streaming on Disney's + service and in theatres in China) was partially filmed in a region of China known as Xinjiang that continued to allow the abuse of the Uighurs and other Muslims - Turkic-speaking ethnic minorities in the predominantly Han country. The film's credits thanked the Chinese Communist Party and specifically the Turpan Public Security Bureau (the agency allegedly responsible for sanctioning the abuse and atrocities committed against ethnic minorities in the Turpan district of China via internment camps). In a time of declining film revenues due to the COVID-virus, and constant attacks on America's alleged 'systematic racism', Hollywood studios set their sights on China's tremendous box office potential and growing middle class, while hypocritically ignoring China's aggressive efforts to assimilate minorities and favor the dominant Han ethnic majority. For many years, US studios have also regularly kowtowed to Communist censors' demands to tweak films to their liking. Many still remember China's backlash in 1997 when Disney was shut out of China's film market for a time after supporting Martin Scorsese's Kundun (1997). The release of Disney's original animated film Mulan (1998) was delayed in China for a year - a move universally viewed as Beijing's vengeful punishment.
Although Netflix defended and promoted its streaming of the highly-controversial comedy-drama Cuties (2020, Fr.) (aka Mignonnes), there were many lawmakers and others who criticized the coming-of-age movie for its abusive hyper-sexualization and exploitation of children, and also called for its removal. The film's French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré premiered her debut film at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in early 2020, and received the festival's Best Director award in the World Cinema section. In the film's plot, Amy - a 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant girl living in Paris, joined a dance group known as 'Cuties' in order to rebel against her conservative Muslim parents and her upbringing. The film's trailers (and revised poster) portrayed pre-adolescent, scantily-clad female dancers suggestively twerking on stage with semi-pornographic gestures. Some argued that the film would only normalize pedophilia, and endanger child welfare. Netflix defended the "social commentary" film as a way to highlight and call attention to an important issue.
Scottish actor Sean Connery passed away at the age of 90. He was most well-known for his six portrayals of British 007 agent James Bond in official films beginning with Dr. No (1962) through to Diamonds are Forever (1971), and then an appearance in a seventh unofficial Never Say Never Again (1983). His acting career spanned seven decades and he also won an Oscar his role in The Untouchables (1987). His other films included Marnie (1964), The Hill (1965), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Highlander (1986), The Name of the Rose (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Dragonheart (1996), and The Rock (1996).
Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland passed away (on July 26) at the age of 104 in Paris, France. She was one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s fabled Golden Age. At the time of her death, De Havilland was the oldest living performer to have won an Oscar. She first acquired notice when she starred opposite Errol Flynn in 1930s and 1940s swashbuckler-adventure films and westerns (in eight film pairings) such as Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). At that time during the 1940s, she also waged a legal battle against Warner Bros.' studio - protesting the studio's extension of her 7 year contract for refusing certain ingenue roles. A 1944 ruling known as the "De Havilland Law" agreed with the actress that the studio could not arbitrarily extend the duration of an actor’s contract, and she was freed to seek projects with other studios. Her legal victory reduced the power of the studios and extended greater creative freedom to performers. She also was nominated for her memorable supporting role as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone With the Wind (1939), and in the 40s won two Best Actress Oscars, playing an unwed mother in To Each His Own (1946) and a repressed spinster in The Heiress (1949). Other starring roles in great films included Hold Back the Dawn (1941), her role as a mentally-ill patient in The Snake Pit (1948) and a role in the melodramatic horror film Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) opposite co-star Bette Davis. She had a well-known on-going 'sibling rivalry' or dispute with her sister and fellow actress Joan Fontaine for years.
Warner Bros. studio announced its entire 2021 slate of films would debut simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters. The revolutionary move was interpreted as a major effort to increase subscribers to HBO Max. However, traditionalist filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve publicly condemned the company for undercutting their theatrical partners without warning.
Soul (2020) was the first full-length Pixar film to not be released in movie theaters, but instead released exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service. It was also Pixar's first animated film to feature an African American main protagonist, in addition to being Pixar's first movie to be released on Christmas.

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