The vast majority of cinemas in North America have been closed for business since March 20.
Box office revenue in North America suffered a steep 25 percent year-over-year decline — or a deficit of $600 million — in the first quarter of 2020 amid the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
It's no surprise that most of the damage was inflicted in March as cases of COVID-19 spread across the U.S. and Canada. By March 19, virtually all cinemas in both countries were closed, save for a smattering of indie cinemas and drive-ins.
Domestic ticket sales turned in a combined $1.81 billion from Jan. 1 through March 19, the day when Comscore stopped reporting theater grosses. That compares to $2.41 billion for the first full three months of 2019, according to Comscore.
In March of this year, revenue came in at a mere $255.7 million as new product underwhelmed at the beginning of the month before moviegoing started slowing and then came to a standstill. That compares to $612.8 million for the March 1-19 stretch last year, making for a decline of 58 percent. When counting all of March 2019 $967.8 million, the year-over-year dip for the month was 74 percent.
No one is sure when theaters will reopen — earlier this week, AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron suggested mid-June — or how long it will take for traffic to resume in earnest once that happens.
Hollywood studios have delayed many of their releases through June and into July — more changes are expected — creating a backlog of product that is likely to impact the rest of the 2020 calendar as well as next year.
This year's box office began on a high note. January revenue clocked in at $912 million — led by Sony's breakout hit Bad Boys for Life — an uptick of 12 percent over January 2019. February $644.8 million also saw gains over the previous year, led by Paramount's Sonic the Hedgehog.
In 2019, box office revenue in North America was $11.4 billion, a bit behind the all-time high of $11.9 billion in 2018. Globally, a new record was achieved with $42.2 billion.
It's too early to say how big of a hit the 2020 worldwide box office will take because of the pandemic, but Hollywood studios and distressed theater owners are already facing global losses of $7 billion. That number could grow to as high as $15 billion to $17 billion if cinemas aren't reopened by the end of May.
In China — the country's second-largest market moviegoing market behind North America — theaters have largely remained shuttered since the end of January, in addition to closures or empty cinemas in a raft of other major territories.
Week three of no theatrical releases. That will technically change soon — Universal’s premium VOD-opening “Trolls World Tour” has a handful of still-open drive-ins to play don’t expect any grosses reported. But it was a week full of important stories, with particular interest in a series of release date adjustments. However, no date can be realized if theaters aren’t open, and nobody knows when that will be.
• Exhibitor trade organization NATO held a webinar Friday. President John Fifthian raised hope that some theaters might be open by late May or early June. AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron, who oversees the most screens in North America reiterated his hopes for mid-June.
• With the COVID-19 still in its early stages of national spread, uncertainty about the curve flattening, and signs that in China, which had the earliest outbreaks three months ago, that viral decline doesn’t equal viral defeat, the reality is it could be weeks before anyone can make a reasonable assessment on reopening.
• Countering industry optimism that after weeks indoors, people will flock to theaters is a survey by Performance Research about public attitudes on return to public events. It saw 49 percent of respondents saying feeling safe about returning to theaters ranged from in a few months to never, with 28 percent saying if they do return, it will be less often. That said: This is a snapshot taken nearly two weeks ago, and shouldn’t be considered predictive. It showed similar or worse results for sporting events, concerts, and theme parks.
• Sports league executives spoke with President Trump, who urged resumption as soon as possible. However, Dr. Alan Sills, chief medical officer for the NFL, cautioned it is premature to believe that football can return this fall. Governors in some states that aren’t fully shut down, like Nebraska, encouraged voluntary compliance — with the threat that if the virus isn’t contained, their ardent fans might not have a season. Sports, of course, demand close player and spectator contact, and are more vulnerable even than theaters to the ongoing threat of contagion. But the idea that it is conceivable the country could have a year with no more sports is even more shocking than disruption to theaters.
• The key takeaway from multiple studio release schedule changes is, in re-dating titles, they don’t expect theaters to be fully operational until July at the earliest. Though key June and July titles like Pixar’s “Soul” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” remain in those months, “Mulan” on July 24 is the earliest rescheduled date for any major title. Other date changes act as a diversion while theaters are closed, but the reality is everything is written in pencil, not pen.