Box Office: Moviegoing Plummets Worldwide, U.S. Movie Theaters Begin Closing

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Cinemas are entirely or partially dark in nearly 50 foreign markets as the U.S. begins following suit, including in New York City and Los Angeles.

Disney and Pixar’s Onward provided a sobering case study over the weekend of the dramatic slowdown in moviegoing across the world, as more cinemas shuttered across various international markets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In North America, the family animated film fell 73 percent to an estimated $10.5 million, the biggest second-weekend decline in Pixar’s storied history (The Good Dinosaur fell 59 percent in its second weekend in 2015). Internationally, Onward‘s second-weekend gross from 47 markets was $6.8 million, a 76 percent dip. Through Sunday, Onward has earned $60.3 million domestically and $41.4 million overseas since its release. 

Overall weekend revenue in North America hit at least a 20-year low ($55.3 million), according to Comscore. Similar stats for the international box office weren’t immediately available, as in an unprecedented turn of events, more than 55 of the world’s 75 or so moviegoing markets are being impacted by the virus.

As of early Sunday, all cinemas were closed in 32 international markets, including China, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and Ireland. There were partial closures in another 15 markets, including the U.K., according to one international executive. Another dozen or so, including in the U.S., have reduced seating capacity in furtherance of “social distancing” and trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Hollywood studio distribution executives say the situation is changing by the hour everywhere, and that they expect widespread closures in other territories in the coming days — including in the U.S., which has more than 5,400 indoor movie theaters across the nation. Insiders at the National Association of Theatre Owners tell  Hollywood Insight that theaters will abide by any orders from local and state authorities.

On Sunday night, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all movie theaters, nightclubs, small theater houses and concert venues in the city to close starting Tuesday, an unprecedented move for one of the nation’s biggest bustling cities. Not longer after, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a similar mandate.

The order for closure in the country’s two biggest moviegoing markets came a day after cinemas in the U.S. began shutting down as local authorities in two Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties ordered that movie theaters go dark temporarily, including the AMC Garden State 16 in Paramus, New Jersey, one of the country’s top-grossing theaters. (Paramus is a suburb of New York City.) 

By Sunday afternoon, studio and exhibition sources said they expect widespread shutdowns in the coming days as more and more states and counties issue similar decrees. Later in the afternoon in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker banned all gatherings above 25 people across the state. In Quebec, places of public gathering such as bars and movie theaters were ordered to be closed. 

Also on Sunday, new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all in-person events involving 50 people or more be called off for the next eight weeks. Representatives for major chains AMC, Cinemark and Regal did not immediately respond for comment on how these new guidelines might be implemented. 

Many consumers are already opting to stay away from movie theaters. 

“As expected, this weekend was a tough one as many industries faced challenges and movie theaters, while appropriately reducing capacity, of course saw the overall weekend box office fall to some of the lowest levels in years,” says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.

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