The hit 2020 is going to take in terms of worldwide ticket sales is incalculable at this point, but some sources estimate it to be at least $20B. Wherever the ultimate number lands, another offshore exec sounds, “Whether theaters reopen or not, that money is not coming back. I don’t think you ever catch up that piece of the box office.” Despite optimism in some sectors for when cinemas re-open, we are also told, “There is going to be an overhang on the business because of a reluctance of people to come back.” One source estimates that initial releases may do 70% of the business they might have done sans COVID-19. Essentially going forward, we are going to have an asterisk when comping titles for 2020, and the overall outlook is grim.
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Full current international and global year-to-date stats are not yet available, but the Top 10 overseas markets are sharply down across the first three months of 2020 versus 2019. China leads at -91%, followed by Korea at -56%, per comScore. When calculated from a local currency basis, the Top 10 are down 59% year-on-year. (Removing China, an exceptional drag on the overall, the other markets are down about 30%).
As of March 31, international box office market share for 2020 is led by Disney at $619M, a 45% dip vs last year when Captain Marvel was just about to pass $1B worldwide. Sony is the global leader, however, at $1.063B in the first three months of 2020. It is also the only major seeing across the board increases versus the same period in 2019. That’s thanks to having such titles as Jumanji: The Next Level, Little Women and Bad Boys For Life in circulation through the early part of this year. Paramount’s Sonic The Hedgehog helped the studio see a domestic hike. (See chart below.)
Significant studio movies that were in holdover or new play in the early part of last year included Disney/Marvel’s Captain Marvel; Paramount’s Bumblebee; Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Alita: Battle Angel; Sony’s Aquaman; Universal/Blumhouse’s Glass; Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World; Sony’s Escape Room; and Universal/Amblin/Lionsgate’s Green Book. (Then of course there were those Chinese New Year blockbusters, led by sci-fi phenom The Wandering Earth, which contributed to the bottom line of international box office for the period.)
Conversely, this year has included holdover business from Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Frozen 2 and Spies In Disguise; as well as the aforementioned Sony pics and Amblin/Uni’s 1917. New entries have included Paramount’s sprightly Sonic The Hedgehog; Universal/Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man; and disappointing new releases Birds Of Prey and Dolittle, from Warner Bros and Universal, respectively. Disney/Pixar’s Onward ended up getting caught up in the coronavirus fray as it released in early March.
While some films worked better than others in early 2020, we’re not hearing a lot of schadenfreude being tossed around given the unpredictability of the current pandemic.
The majors have had to scramble to change up their schedules faced with COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the next several months. This is especially true of titles that would rely heavily on offshore grosses. Universal was the first to strike a major move when it pushed James Bond’s No Time To Die to November, later driving Fast & Furious 9 and Minions: The Rise Of Gru fully into next year. Disney, after undating Mulan and Black Widow, among others, on Friday revealed its plans for the future and put the former on July 24 with the latter Marvel pic going in November this year.
Paramount on Thursday winged Top Gun: Maverick to Christmas 2020, among other shifts to its release plans. Also last week, Sony made seismic changes to its docket, looking to fill Q1 and Q2 2021 holes that will be in dire need of movies given current production delays.
Warner Bros has lassoed an August date for Wonder Woman 1984, moving her out of June, and still has Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in the director’s preferred July corridor.
Despite some suggestions that domestic could get back on track this summer, “June seems like a risk overall,” says a source, adding, “May and April are for sure.” Disney currently has Pixar’s Soul on June 19 as the first big entry.
It is said the theatrical industry is cyclical and the lows and highs are never as low or high as they seem, but this is an unprecedented time in the history of the industry. Though no one has tea leaves to read, the hope is that after mass confinement in homes around the globe and as television options are burned through, desire will be keen to get out to the communal big screen experience.
China, which kicked off cinema closures ahead of Lunar New Year in January has seen giant impact of over $2.5B so far, and could end 2020 at half of of its 2019 grosses with predictions of just RMB 30B ($4.2B). But it’s still early days as Middle Kingdom authorities have been cautious about getting folks back inside moviehouses too early. Between the market reopening some cinemas, and then shuttering them again a few days later, one source suggested, “It’s hard to believe the whole world is blowing up and Beijing and Shanghai are under control.”
Elsewhere, some major markets were slow to close, and some do have a few cinemas open, but the returns are “notional” we’re told as “business is dead everywhere.” Still open to a degree are Korea and Japan. But moviegoing is drastically down in each. Overall, for cinemas that haven’t closed, it may be they are waiting for the government to force a shutdown which would then help an argument on rent payments during the crisis.
The major studios have stopped reporting weekend numbers, as has comScore. In the weekend before some key markets closed, the Top 5 overseas movies amassed only $31M, down 85% versus the same frame of 2019. For the time being, it’s just academic that grosses will be a pittance until the virus is somewhat in hand.
And even if offshore hubs get a green light to open before domestic, those that are not home to strong local productions will have difficulty posting significant numbers given the dearth of studio fare available until North America becomes operational again. Offers an international distribtion source, “If worldwide piracy is a risk, I don’t think you can stagger releases. You’d have to have a good portion of the world including domestic, and if domestic is shut, there’s no question of any movie releasing.”
To be fair, 2020 was never supposed to match the record heights of 2019 — despite a handful of $1B+ possibilities — and emphasis was placed on 2021 as the bounce back. But, as noted above, looking ahead there’s uncertainty about films whose production has been halted or delayed by COVID-19 making their dates for next year. Such titles as Avatar 2, The Matrix 4 or Jurassic World: Dominion could be in that mix. “We are all guessing,” says a studio source about the impact production stoppages will have on the 2021 sdchedule. The year “still has potential, but whether movies move out of 2021 depends how long cinemas will be closed, and how many will survive.”
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