Movies

North American box office plunges to two-decade low amid pandemic

LOS ANGELES : As the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across North America, movie ticket sales there plunged to their lowest levels in two decades, generating roughly US$55.3 million (S$78.5 million) between Friday and Sunday, as cinemas in New York and Los Angeles were ordered to close.

Last weekend's champion, Disney-Pixar's Onward, remained the No. 1 movie, as three new films opened to varying degrees of disappointment.

Onward pulled in US$10.5 million in its second outing, a brutal 73 per cent decline.

Christian drama I Still Believe came in second with US$9.5 million, while the US$45 million Vin Diesel superhero actioner Bloodshot debuted in third with US$9.3 million. Political satire The Hunt came in fifth with US$5.3 million - about half of what was expected.

The last time revenues were this depressed was a weekend in mid-September of 2000 (US$54.5 million). The steep fall pushed the year-to-date box office down almost 9 per cent, according to Comscore.

On top of audiences staying home, domestic receipts were inevitably going to plummet this weekend because AMC and Regal, two of the biggest cinema chains, and several other circuits like Alamo Drafthouse and Arclight, cut capacity in individual auditoriums by 50 per cent to avoid crowding.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

That helped multiplexes comply with Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for "social distancing".

Exhibitors in the US that stayed open for business took extra precautions to increase sanitation. That included sterilising seats, arm rests and cup holders more frequently and disinfecting all hand-contact surfaces during peak times.

Studio executives and media analysts recognise the global box office is in uncharted territory, with crucial developments unfolding at a rapid pace.

By last Thursday, most major Hollywood films that were set to hit cinemas over the next two months - including Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II, Fast & Furious 9 and No Time To Die - had been removed from release calendars.

That means even if cinemas do keep the lights on, the volume of content available will have dramatically shrunk. - REUTERS

Movies