UPDATED with more detail: Amid the escalating outbreak of the deadly coronavirus — and in an unprecedented move — Chinese producers and distributors have cancelled the local release of all films set for the Lunar New Year period that begins this weekend. There were seven potential blockbusters due to hit Middle Kingdom theaters, kicking off what is annually a highly lucrative session at local turnstiles, but the government has warned people not to congregate in crowded areas and producers are understood to have made the decision to delay releases given the potential risk of spreading the disease. It is estimated that over $77M worth of tickets had already been pre-sold for the coming week.
Chinese health authorities announced today that 571 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the virus had been reported in 25 provincial-level regions, while 17 people have died. This morning, the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, was placed on lockdown with all public transportation suspended until further notice — particularly devastating during what is a major holiday for travel and family gatherings.
Ticketing platform Taopiaopiao has said it will refund tickets that had been pre-bought by customers in the city and will do its best to work with cinemas in the rest of the country to stem client losses. Maoyan also said it will refund all tickets across the mainland.
While certainly a prudent move, this is a potentially huge blow to the local industry which reaps cash at the box office during the Chinese New Year frame. Last year’s opening day set single-day Middle Kingdom records, and ultimate CNY winner, The Wandering Earth, went on to gross $691M in the market. The full New Year holiday brought in about RMB 5.8B ($836M at today’s rates) with the month of February achieving a benchmark RMB 11.1B ($1.6B) boosted by the New Year pics.
It is believed this year’s films will be rescheduled. How that may impact what Hollywood has on deck remains to be seen, but local authorities can date at will.
Among the movies that had been set for the holiday was Detective Chinatown 3, the third in the comedy series from director Sicheng Chen. The last picture was a smash with $541M at home during the 2018 CNY frame. The threequel was shot with IMAX cameras and was to have an IMAX screen component this weekend. Unfortunately for IMAX, DC3‘s shelving is the second time in less than a year that the company has seen a local title it is heavily involved with pulled. (In this case, it’s a question of force majeure, while The Eight Hundred last summer was kiboshed by authorities because its political message was not acceptable to key members of the Chinese military.)
It is not yet clear how the turn of events in China will affect the U.S. release of Detective Chinatown 3 which Warner Bros was due to push out on Friday. Cathay Cineplexes in Singapore has already said it will not be showing the film, as well as three others that were shelved today in China. The UK release via Trinity Cineasia is also expected to be impacted.
The other marquee titles to be pulled include comedy Lost In Russia; action pic Vanguard; The Rescue from the director of Operation Red Sea; Chinese women’s volleyball story Leap which we had been hearing good things about; Legend Of Deification, from the studio behind Ne Zha; and the latest in the Boonie Bears animated franchise.