We are overdue here for a column about how the COVID-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc on Hollywood and the entire motion picture industry.
This is a story with far-reaching implications for the industry around the world and of course, here at home. As everyone knows, on March 16 the word came down that the Capitol Theatre/Capitol Annex was closing its doors, part of the shutdown of all Magic Lantern Theatres and Rainbow Cinemas across Canada. So we have been affected directly right here in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
There was a wave of other closures announced by other chains across Canada around the same time, including the Cineplex chain and the Landmark chain.
There are also closures across the USA, including AMC, Cinemark and Regal, the latter owned by Cineworld. Now, Cineworld is the UK-based company who were set to take over Cineplex, but there is much speculation now that this whole implosion of the cinema industry might possibly impact or even kill that deal. We shall see.
Anyhow, the bottom line is that cinemas all over the world are shut down and locked down, and it has meant bad news all around for the major Hollywood studios. If they can’t get their movies into cinemas, they don’t make money.
At first, it was the major market of China that was hit by the widespread shutdowns due to COVID-19. That was a debacle for Hollywood in its own right. But then it kept speading to even more countries in the international market as COVID-19 hit other countries and spread into Europe.
Now the disaster has hit North America, too. As a result the last two weeks of March has seen absolute rock-bottom box office numbers, the likes of which we have not seen since the industry started.
For the weekend of March 13 to 15, Box Office Mojo reported the domestic box office was at $53.7 million, which in its own right was the worst weekend of the year by a wide margin. This was on a weekend when pandemic news was sweeping North America, with sports leagues having already shut down just a couple of days before. By this point, cinemas across North America had implemented social-distancing and other measures.
Then came Black Monday, the day that the theatre chains bowed to the restrictions on mass gatherings being announced by governments across the continent.
By the next weekend, March 20-22, Box Office Mojo reported the overall domestic box office was - wait for it - $3,920.
Worldwide, you had theatres shut down literally all over the world. The only places where a number of them remained open were in countries like Russia, which saw a box office weekend gross of a little over $1.2 million, and Japan with a $1.1 million weekend. Everywhere else, it is a bloodbath, there is no other way to describe it.
Of course, movie releases have been delayed left and right due to the spread of the virus. The first and biggest blockbuster to be pushed back was the new James Bond movie No Time to Die, which was scheduled for an April 10 release. It is now due to come out Nov. 25 in the USA. At the time of the announcement on March 4, the COVID-19 virus hadn’t yet been wreaking havoc in North America. But the Bond franchise relies heavily on the international markets, and places like Asia and Europe were getting hammered.
It was ironic. After defeating so many villains over the years, James Bond finally met his match in the coronavirus.
Since then, more major releases have been delayed, including:
A Quiet Place Part II: moves from March 20 to a date as yet not confirmed.
Mulan: pushed back from March 2020 to a date not yet known.
The New Mutants: pushed back indefinitely from April 2020 date.
Black Widow: pushed back indefinitely from May 1.
The Personal History of David Copperfield: pushed back indefinitely.
The Woman in the Window: pushed back indefinitely.
F9 (this is the Fast and the Furious franchise): pushed back from May 2020 to April 2021.
Peter Rabbit 2: pushed back from April to Aug. 7.
Just this week came news that Wonder Woman 1984, the sequel to the first Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot, was being pushed back to an Aug. 14 date.
Looking ahead, this sets up some interesting scenarios. Assuming the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control, the potential exists for a ton of August and September box office records to fall all over the place, as some of the big movies that were scheduled for April and May start to roll out.
Of course, right now we are seeing no shortage of all time records being set, all of them in the opposite direction.
With cinemas closed down a number of current releases are getting early digital release rollouts, and those include The Invisible Man and The Hunt, and Trolls World Tour.
Needless to say, COVID-19 has also wreaked havoc on movie production, with production delays reported all over the place including in Vancouver and Toronto.
Of course, this is a tough time for any and all businesses that rely on spectators showing up. Sports fans know this all too well as they have seen games cancelled left and right and entire championships wiped right out. Our local Battlefords North Stars had their entire Cup run wiped out.
For the sports fans, those games are gone forever, and they are left with nothing to watch on TV.
But for movie fans, it’s different. We will all get to see these anticipated movies one of these days. The fans are essentially missing nothing by having the cinemas closed, because the new releases were already being pushed back.
What I am really saying is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. These long-awaited releases will be back, the cinemas will reopen, the concessions will be running, and the customers will be back watching. In other words, there is something to look forward to.
In the meantime sit back, and enjoy watching offerings at your “home theatre.” Enjoy the flicks on TV and on Netflix, and in your personal DVD collection. Maybe there’s some out there you haven’t seen before.
You can also catch up on reading some good movie books, or look for screenplays online to read. You might even look for classic episodes of Siskel and Ebert on YouTube. Anyway, there’s still plenty for the movie junkies to do, with none of those live sports on TV as a distraction.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to go to the movies again at the cinemas sooner rather than later.