Cinema box office suffers worst drop in two decades as Coronavirus bites
As anyone who wandered through a deserted city centre over the weekend can attest (and if you did, why were you not at home?), it's starting to get a bit spooky out there. Though the UK is yet to experience official lockdowns on the scale of Italy, Spain or parts of the US, concerned and sensible citizens have already started to avoid places where they might spend extended periods in close proximity to someone carrying Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Environments such as, say, a cinema, which is why this weekend the US box office suffered its worst weekend since 15-21 September 2000, a window in which the biggest new release was Jamie Foxx-starring bomb Bait (nope, us neither). Revenues in the US and Canada were just over $55m, a fall of 45 per cent compared to the previous weekend, with the number one film – Pixar's Onward – dropping 73 per cent (that's the kind of fall normally reserved for worst-film-ever contenders like Gigli, but which on this occasion doesn't tally with the quality of the film).
This worrying statistic poses two big questions. One, why are enough people going out to sit in dark rooms with total strangers to register even this level of box office? As studios push release dates back until (hopefully) the worst of the pandemic is over, the biggest new releases of the week were the poor-taste The Hunt, in which left-wingers track and kill right-wingers, and Vin Diesel comic book vehicle Bloodshot. Let me just say that neither of these films are worth you risking your health – or the health of your families – to see on their opening weekend.
The bigger question is what happens to cinemas for the rest of the year. That nadir 20 years ago was a one-week blip – within a fortnight, revenues had bounced back to nearly the $100m mark (and remember, these are like-for-like numbers that don't account for inflation; this weekend's revenues are, in real terms, much smaller). But with big releases like Mulan, No Time to Die and A Quiet Place 2 all shelved for the time being, and more tentpoles likely to follow their lead, odds are that takings are only going to dwindle further.
That's presuming cinemas are even allowed to operate. For now, they're keeping the lights on by keeping empty spaces between seats and rows, and disinfecting theatres with a rigour normally reserved for operating theatres. But it feels like only a matter of time before that's deemed insufficient, too.
How this pans out for the rest of the year remains to be seen, but the best-case scenario is that – as cinemas in China slowly start to re-open – the industry is able to recoup most of its losses by packing the calendar in the latter part of the year. The less rosy picture sees a number of independent cinema chains shuttering for good, and a slew of independent studios going under as well. Well the health of the film industry obviously pales in significance compared to the health of actual people, it is a worrying hint at the long-term damage that Covid-19 might cause, even once we get the virus under control.
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