What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

This past week or so has seen two movies hit with massive delays and reshoots, leading to speculation that they're in trouble. World War Z, the zombie movie based on Max Brooks' novel, is going back for seven weeks of reshoots, and the script is being massively rewritten by Prometheus/Lost writer Damon Lindelof. Meanwhile, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was due to come out later this month, but it's been delayed until 2013 — and rumor has it, this is because audiences in test screenings hated the film as-is.

Is the practice of massively delaying a film's release date becoming more common? And should you always take it as evidence that a film is in trouble? Here's a quick roundup of some films that have faced major delays, to help you decide.

It does seem as though major delays are becoming a more common feature of Hollywood movies — which is at least partly a function of studios giving directors much, much shorter timeframes to turn movies around in. As more blockbusters are released each summer (and the total number of big-budget movies goes up every year) picking the right release date for a film is going to become more and more of a crapshoot, based on optimistic production schedules and people's guesstimates of the best date to make an impact. That said, here are some new recent cases where films were delayed from their originally announced release dates:

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

G.I. Joe: Retaliation:
This movie was already doing a ton of promotion — including a Superbowl spot — ahead of its June 29 release date. And then, right at the last minute, the studio delayed its release by nine months, ostensibly in order to convert it in 3D. According to Deadline, though, the real reason was that test audiences didn't like the film — and the only thing they did like was the burgeoning friendship between Channing Tatum's character and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the film. And then, unfortunately — spoiler alert — Tatum's character gets killed off early on in the movie. (Although, reading between the lines, that's likely to change between now and March, when the film comes out.)

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

World War Z:
This film had its release date pushed back by six months, and they're doing almost enough reshoots to film a whole new movie. Most major films do have reshoots — but not seven weeks' worth, with a whole new screenwriter. According to reports swirling around the internet, the film's original screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski was close to the source material — but then Michael Carnahan rewrote it to make it more of a conventional horror film. Now Lindelof is going to rework it, including giving the film a whole new ending. One bad sign: It's not clear that the supporting cast of the film, including Matthew Fox and James Badge Dale will be back for these reshoots. Dale is already busy working on Iron Man 3.

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Superman: The Man of Steel:
The Superman reboot was supposed to come out this December — but its release was delayed until June 2013, ostensibly to avoid competing with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. There were plenty of rumors of problems with this film's script, and the delay was announced early enough to allow more time for filming — so this might actually be a case where a release-date change winds up being a very good thing.

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Robopocalypse:
We'd forgotten this one, but apparently this Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson's robot uprising novel was slated for July 3, 2013 — and now it has an April 25, 2014 release date, to allow more time for the huge special effects set pieces and stuff. But given that filming hasn't started yet, it wouldn't be too surprising if that date, too, turned out not to be set in stone.

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Piranha 3DD:
This film only just came out in most U.S. cities, and it was originally slated for Thanksgiving last year. Speaking to Daily Dead, screenwriter Patrick Melton explained:

To clarify, the Thanksgiving release was always overly optimistic. Marcus and I started writing the script around Thanksgiving a year prior. Making the film within that time period is plausible (we've done it on Saw, obviously), but it became clear very early on that our goals were not realistic because we needed sun, water slides, and bikini-clad coeds… three things not very prevalent in the United States during the months of January and February. We initially scouted Louisiana and realized that we wouldn't be able to shoot until late March because of the cold weather. Now, with the additional FX worked needed to create/enhance the piranhas, the Thanksgiving release was out the window.

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Cabin in the Woods:
This unconventional horror film from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard was filmed in early 2009, and went through a slew of release dates before finally coming out a couple months ago. During that time, original distributor MGM went bankrupt and the film finally ended up with Lionsgate. Thanks to Brainwalsh1975 for reminding us of this one!

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

The Green Hornet:
Actually, this one's sort of murky. It was supposed to come out in summer 2010, and then its release was pushed back to December after early cuts of the movie looked weak and fans were unexcited. And then it was delayed again until January 2011, to allow for... wait for it... 3-D conversion. And in fact, Sony wanted to push the movie back still further, to March 2011, but Warner Bros. protested that this would create confusion with its forthcoming Green Lantern movie. All of these delays were after the film's filming was concluded — the filming, too, was delayed as director Stephen Chow and co-star Nicolas Cage both bailed out of the project.

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Star Trek 1 & 2:
Both of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies have missed their original release dates. The first movie was scheduled for December 2008 but wound up coming out in May 2009 instead — and by all accounts, this was purely because the studio thought it was a strong enough film to be a summer blockbuster. Especially with the 2007 writers' strike thinning the herd of 2009 summer movies, this turned out to be a shrewd move. Meanwhile, the sequel was originally slated to be out... around now, actually. But instead, it's coming out next May. By all accounts, this was because Abrams and his collaborators were busy with Super-8 and other projects, and it took them a long time to nail down a script that they all liked.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince:
And very similarly... the sixth Potter movie was scheduled for November 2008, but was moved to summer 2009, purely because the studio thought it would make more money as a summer release. This spawned tons of fan outrage, including one of the most popular "Hitler reacts to ________" videos ever. (At left.)

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Avatar:
James Cameron's movie about blue cat people who were sitting on a heap of cheddar was originally scheduled for release in May 2009 — and then was delayed eight months to give movie theaters more time to add extra 3-D screens. And that seemed to turn out okay.

What does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed?

Dragonball Evolution:
This live-action adaptation of the manga/anime classic was originally set for release on August 15, 2008, in the tail end of the summer movie season — and its release date was pushed back to April, 2009. And there were reportedly some reshoots along the way, but also the studio reportedly didn't have confidence that this film could compete with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (And in the end, Dragonball turned out to be an evolutionary dead end — sorry, couldn't resist.)

So what does it mean when a movie gets massively delayed from its original release date? It's... hard to say. I guess the most you can conclude from this list of recent examples is that it's impossible to generalize, and that a huge delay, in itself, means nothing. It's only when you hear of new writers being brought in or storylines being massively reworked after test screenings have already happened that you can possibly draw some conclusions.

Update: In the comments, Malcontent79 suggests a good rule of thumb:

I think the better indicator is when they push it TO. Putting the movie in a summer slot, or around a major holiday, shows the studio has faith in its quality. Scheduling it for January-April generally = crap movie.