Warner Bros International Chief On Russia, China Markets: “We’ve All Learned To Live With Uncertainty” – CinemaCon

Disruption will continue to weigh on the international theatrical system as the Russia-Ukraine war drags on and well over half of China’s theaters are shuttered in the latest Covid crackdown.

Andrew Cripps, president, international theatrical distribution, Warner Bros Pictures, said that Russia — which is currently being boycotted by studios — makes up about 5% of international annual box office on average, indexing higher or lower depending on the year. The war “is a tragedy that’s happening. Over the last couple of years, we’ve all learned to live with uncertainty. Including theaters being shut around the world. This is for a different reason, and we have to hope there is some semblance of a solution,” he said during an appearance at CinemaCon.

“I don’t know – is it ceasefire, and a pullout? I just don’t know at this point. Only that there are no Hollywood releases at all going into the country. I just hope you can get to a position and time where you can bring product back into the country,” Cripps added during a panel conversation with Mary Parent, chair of worldwide production at Legendary Entertainment, and filmmaker Denis Villenueve, who joined via video from Budapest where he is prepping Dune: Part II. 

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Warner Bros pulled The Batman from Russia in early March at the eleventh hour following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Cripps said piracy of that film and others is a problem in both Russia and China — where Shanghai is locked down, Beijing is on alert, and 57% of theaters are closed.

He said Korea, one of the most vibrant international markets two years go, has also seen a big slowdown. “People stopped going to the movies there,” he said. Japan has been solid with some local success, likewise Australia and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and UAE, “but we would like to see the whole word doing better.”

The industry is also contending with shorter windows/streaming competition. “I am worried about theatrical windows getting shorter and shorter,” said Villenueve. “They should go back to being as long as possible.” Audiences “needs to feel something unique, that’s part of the conversation, the zeitgeist, the moment,” he said. “We have to go back to longer windows.”

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The panel was part of the International Filmmakers Roundtable at CinemaCon moderated by Deadline international box office editor Nancy Tartaglione. Dune producer Parent and Villenueve received awards for International Filmmakers of the Year.

The global box office, including North America, hit close to $6.7 billion this year as of Sunday, versus $4.3 billion in the same period in 2021. International accounts for $5 billion, up 26%. That’s come up a lot but off a low base and the industry is still awaiting a return to pre-Covid levels.

CinemaCon, the exhibition industry confab, runs through Thursday in Las Vegas.