Topline: The coronavirus outbreak has ground China’s film industry to a halt, with theaters sitting empty and productions paused, causing box office losses of at least $1.5 billion so far in 2020, when the country was instead expected to surpass the United States this year in terms of box office sales.
- According to The Hollywood Reporter, total Chinese ticket revenue for the past 20 days is $3.9 million, compared to the $1.52 billion taken in by the box office for the same period last year.
- China’s theaters shuttered their doors beginning January 24 in response to the outbreak, which coincided with the country’s Lunar New Year holiday, the biggest moviegoing week in the entire world.
- On the filmmaking side, production and distribution companies are unable to either make progress on movie shoots or release anticipated hits, such as Jojo Rabbit, 1917 and Dolittle, among others.
- Film industry executives are calling for China’s government to provide financial support, (which Beijing has committed to without stating specifics) and are also proposing an extension of the Labor Day holiday in May, which could make up for box office losses.
- The Washington Post reported in December 2019 that China’s filmmaking industry was thriving, with two Chinese-language films making history as the country’s largest box office draws.
- A 2017 Deloitte report projected that China’s film industry would in 2020 surpass the United States in box office revenue and audience numbers.
Crucial quote: “If, God forbid, we’re still talking about this virus by summer and theaters are not operating and [China] is in a form of economic paralysis, that impact is way beyond a movie,” an unnamed senior U.S. film executive told Variety.
Big number: 70,000. That’s how many of China’s movie screens have gone dark during the outbreak.
Key background: The coronavirus, which has killed over 1,100 people and sickened over 60,000 others, is believed to have originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province. Coronavirus, which is being referred to as Covid-19 by the World Health Organization, has caused more deaths than the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic that swept through Asia. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Chinese government has been circulating surveys to local film executives asking how the industry has been hurt by the current coronavirus outbreak, and what the government can do to help.
What we don’t know: When China’s moviegoing audience will return to theaters, and if the government will intervene with funding or other relief measures for film studios and distributors. Some industry professionals worry that lingering fears of infection will keep moviegoers away. According to Variety, most productions are not anticipated to resume until April 1, although some—taking many precautions to prevent the spread of disease—have started back up.
Tangent: The China Film Group, a government-led organization, dictates which movies made outside the country are allowed to play in Chinese theaters. Permission is granted for each film, and, according to the Post in 2019, the group has greenlit about 35 movies per year.