Hollywood braces for a rough summer at the box office.
Article by Christopher Rosen, Vanity Fair
Want to hear a few sobering data points about how coronavirus has halted the Chinese box office in its tracks? Well: between January 24 and February 23, when the Chinese New Year was being celebrated, just $4.2 million worth of tickets were sold, according to figures published by the Hollywood Reporter this week. During the same time frame last year, ticket revenue hit $1.76 billion.
Chinese theaters have been closed for weeks, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. Theaters in Japan, South Korea, and Italy—three other major centers of coronavirus outbreak—are showing huge attendance drop-offs as well. All told, experts estimated the film industry could lose $5 billion as a result of the virus and its fallout, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Still, the long-term ramifications of the illness might not be as dire as that figure makes them sound, one expert told Vanity Fair.
As Hollywood studios clamor to collect intellectual property with four-quadrant appeal, a greater emphasis has been placed on how films perform at the international box office. China, being the second-largest film market beyond North America, has played a key role in the success of films like Avengers: Endgame and the Fast & Furious franchise.
But 2020’s high-profile spring releases are already being hurt by the coronavirus, which could have an enormous effect on their bottom lines. In the wake of the virus’s spread, Disney will likely delay the China release of its live-action Mulan remake. Similarly, Universal—which is distributing Daniel Craig’s final James Bond film, No Time to Die, in overseas markets—cancelled its China premier. Both films were expected to cross $1 billion worldwide; the Chinese box office will play a huge role in whether or not the films hit that mark.
Yet thus far, no studio has outright canceled release plans because of coronavirus—although a sector of 007 fans have made the case for No Time to Die to get bumped. In an open letter published to Bond fansite MI6-HQ.com this week, James Page, the site’s cofounder and David Leigh, founder of the James Bond Dossier, called for EON Productions, MGM, and Universal to delay the film’s release until the summer, when the coronavirus outbreak might be better contained. (“It’s just a movie,” they wrote. “The health and well-being of fans around the world, and their families, is more important. We have all waited over four years for this film. Another few months will not damage the quality of the film and only help the box-office for Daniel Craig’s final hurrah.”)
Despite being brought low by the unexpected coronavirus outbreak, then, it seems unlikely studio executives will change how they do business going forward—at least, according to Dergarabedian.
“There is now an awareness of what can happen in this situation. The playbook is being written right now. I don’t know that there are any contingency plans that were in place before this,” he said. “But going forward, everyone will have this in the back of their mind that things like this can happen and you have to get creative in how to deal with this type of situation. I don’t think it’s going to be the main consideration whether or not studios green-light a movie that has international appeal, but it has created the idea that if something like this happens, what do you do? The movies have always provided an escape. Nobody could have foreseen this.”