Coronavirus cuts deep into Hollywood’s crucial Chinese box office numbers

With more than 20,000 confirmed cases and more than 400 deaths all over mainland China, the Wuhan coronavirus has shut down several public spaces and levied a financial hit on the world’s second-largest film market during the Lunar New Year period — which was expected to bring in more than $1 billion.

Fear over further spreading the contagion has closed 70,000 movie theaters in several regions and postponed the premieres of films like Doolittle, 1917, Jojo Rabbit, and Little Women until the virus is no longer a public health threat. The problem is compounded by the Lunar New Year period, according to Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com, who told Digital Trends it “is the busiest moviegoing time of the entire year, so a normally lucrative time has taken an enormous hit.”

The previously mentioned films and others like Marriage Story and Sonic the Hedgehog, which are scheduled to release later in February, could miss out on the post-awards season high. Last year, Green Book pulled an impressive $71 million in China after its Oscars wins.

Woman wearing coronavirus mask on Beijing subway
Passengers wear face masks on a Beijing Subway train in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Artyom Ivanov / Getty Images

Of course, health concerns trump all else, and even though “China is a key movie market that can represent a huge piece of the international revenue on which studios bank on to deliver big returns,” premiere dates can be moved around and studios will still see some profit, according to Comscore’s senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

He also told Digital Trends that most of the awards seasons films and Oscars contenders “are pretty much played out” at this point, so the coronavirus fallout will have less negative effects on those films.

But since there is uncertainty as to when theaters will reopen or people will feel comfortable gathering in public again, “more losses are expected and release plans for future films – both foreign and domestic – will remain uncertain for some time,” Pandya said.

What may prove to be an even bigger loss for Hollywood is when “blockbusters” like the new James Bond venture, Black Widow, and Mulan are set to be released in China, Pandya warned.

With the recent news of the tremendous growth of Disney+ and staying power of Netflix, streaming services could prove to be a viable opportunity during this time for film distribution — though neither is available in China and it’s unlikely they’d launch any time soon. As Pandya notes, if companies and studios can agree on when to release the films on platforms people can watch from the comfort of their own homes, perhaps some of the losses resulting from the theater closures and cancellations can be recovered.

Of course, such a strategy cannot capture the entire Chinese market given distribution deals already in place, as well as the issue of slow internet speeds for many parts of the country, but films like the hotly anticipated Chinese comedy Lost in Russia and a remake of Enter the Fat Dragon were both released online. Owners of the rights to both films may also release the films in theaters at a later date.

American film producers are not the only ones impacted by the enormous Chinese market’s response to the coronavirus. As Variety reported, shares of many Chinese entertainment companies crashed when the market reopened at the beginning of this week.

More than 200 cases of coronavirus cases have now been reported in over 20 countries, with deaths outside of mainland China reported in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

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