The domestic box office posted its lowest overall numbers in 20 years due to the coronavirus pandemic. With COVID-19 spreading rapidly around the globe, the entertainment industry has been greatly affected in more ways than one. Several of the upcoming Hollywood tentpoles have been delayed, movie and TV show productions have halted, and sports leagues are on indefinite hiatuses. People are advised to stay at home as often as possible, practicing social distancing to prevent further spread of the virus. Since the situation is extremely fluid, there’s no telling when things will return to something resembling normalcy.
Unlike in China, where movie theaters are closed, the multiplex was open for business this weekend in North America. Chains AMC and Regal announced they’d be reducing capacity by 50% in response to the health crisis. Unsurprisingly, that measure (coupled with potential moviegoers opting to not go out) led to one of the worst weekends in recent memory.
According to Variety, films combined to gross around $54 million, the lowest total since September 2000. Pixar’s Onward was the only title to make more than $10 million, holding on to the #1 spot on the charts. Religious drama I Still Believe came in second with $9.5 million and fellow new arrival Bloodshot grossed $9.3 million. Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man and The Hunt rounded out the top five.
It’s true none of the movies playing this weekend were expected to be huge draws (even Onward struggled by Pixar’s lofty standards in its debut), but this illustrates why the major studios have essentially pulled all new releases until at least May. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, most people are less inclined to go out to the theater – not just in America, but around the world. Studios are dependent on ticket sales to turn a profit on their sizable investments (Disney’s live-action Mulan cost $200 million to produce), so it doesn’t make sense to stick to the original schedule during these uncertain times. All of the delays are costing Hollywood billions of dollars, but most would rather take the losses now and try to make some kind of profit on their films once the pandemic has passed.
As of now, forthcoming 2020 blockbusters like Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984 remain on track for their release dates, but that could all change in the coming weeks. Obviously, it all depends on how things transpire over the next few weeks, but the studios are undoubtedly monitoring the situation closely and will make decisions when the time is right. Particularly in regards to tentpoles, the worldwide marketplace is more important than just the U.S, box office. Superhero films and action movies like No Time to Die rely on huge turnouts in China and Europe to eclipse $1 billion. It’ll likely be a while before the studios can conduct business as usual.