“We are in uncharted territory.”
Those are the words from one exhibition source this morning to Deadline in the wake of MGM/Eon/Universal’s shocking shift of No Time to Die from its April 10 Easter global launch date to Thanksgiving, largely due to those Asian markets effected by the coronavirus.
Don’t doubt this for a second, but at this very minute in major studio distribution huddles across town, there’s war-room talk of what major event pics could potentially move in the next three months as executives try to assess coranavirus’ impact at the global box office.
With the success of event pics’ like Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow (May 1) and Universal’s F9 (May 22, Memorial day weekend) tied to overseas grosses, specifically Asian markets, it would be financially responsible for such titles to move deeper into the calendar, particularly when there’s an opportunity to pivot and shift media buy and P&A spends. No Time to Die needed to move out of a precarious overseas marketplace so that it was in a potential space where all offshore markets would be working at their maximum. With the collapse of booming markets like South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and China, that wasn’t possible (see chart below). And if No Time to Die dies, well that sinks MGM.
Currently, Disney is adamant that they’re not moving the May 1 release date of Black Widow, and Universal is officially not changing their May 22 release for F9. Many in the distribution sphere heard rumors that Disney would move Black Widow to Marvel’s Eternals Nov. 6 release date (and thus that Angelina Jolie movie would head to 2021), but that’s not the plan at hand according to the studio. I understand Disney is telling its exhibition partners that they’re staying the course with their current release slate.
The historical box office champ has the bandwidth to weather sour box office patches with its brand fare, not to mention they have the feasibility to reschedule movie event films around the calendar given their grip on key dates. Still, it’s markets like South Korea and China that make Marvel movies. Captain Marvel, another femme superhero movie, saw its massive global debut of $456.7M found 35% of that gross fueled by Asian territories (sans Japan which went later, and not counting Australia and Russia). The PRC alone at $184.9M was a big factor in driving Uni’s Fate of the Furious to the studio’s biggest global opening of all-time with $541.9M in 2017.
Meanwhile we hear Warner Bros. will stay put with its upcoming summer releases, Scoob! on May 15 and juggernaut Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5. Ditto for Paramount and SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run: no plans to move the pic.
Still it wouldn’t be jawdropping if Disney decides to move Black Widow later, and Uni with F9 as well should the coronavirus situation worsen. The month of March will be the true test if there’s any global B.O. fallout from the virus with Disney’s Onward opening this weekend, Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II on March 20, and Disney’s Mulan on March 27. Despite these movies delaying some of their foreign territory openings, the studios are unable to pull them from the calendar now as their P&A is locked and loaded. Should this trio underperform greatly, rivals predict that’s when Black Widow and F9 would move out of May, spelling a $400M domestic loss at the month’s box office, a summer launch pad that can do anywhere between $850M-$1 billion in a given year. While we already expected this May to be off sans an Avengers movie, the deficit could be greater should such seismic maneuvers occur.
What happens if Black Widow and F9 move? Some say more domestic-driven fare would move up, i.e. horror films and comedies. That’s a situation we saw today following No Time to Die‘s departure, with Dreamworks Animation’s Trolls World Tour moving up a week, and A24’s horror film Saint Maud shifting down a week to April 10. Horror typically reaps its spoils stateside, while animated fare has a staggered international release to capitalize on school vacations.
But, who gets hurt here in the short run by major studios’ rescheduling of tentpoles?
They’re the ones who need the fresh product should other majors make seismic event pic shifts. With the highly anticipated No Time to Die off Easter weekend, it’s unlikely that the new batch of wide entries will drive a $200M-plus domestic 3-day holiday on par with when Furious 7 and Batman v. Superman respectively played Easter weekend in 2015 and 2016.
While movie theaters stateside have not shuttered as they have in Italy, China, South Korea, etc. theater chain stocks took a dive this morning in the wake of the news of No Time to Die’s move to Thanksgiving. Some exhibs are concerned that the rescheduling of No Time to Die will only spur more paranoia into moviegoers not to attend the movies; that studios may be acting prematurely. MGM, Eon and Universal say that the decision is purely economical and in the best interest of Bond 25.
“We don’t want to respond to this situation like lemmings running off a cliff,” remarked one distribution boss sage today about the coronavirus’ possible impact at the box office.
“If theaters aren’t closing in North America, I don’t know why you would pull your movie,” says Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian, but in regards to the global day and date, he adds “studios will have to be responsive, nimble and willing to move titles around if need be.”
Currently, in the states “it’s business as usual” says Dergarabedian.
“The Invisible Man overperformed; people went to the movies and that was after plenty of headlines about the coronavirus. Since then there’s been more cases reported in North America and therefore this weekend if Onward, The Way Back and Emma perform as expected, that’s great news. And let’s keep in mind, not a single movie theater in North America is closed due to this situation. People are still going to the multiplex,” he adds.
Nonetheless a fear factor pervades among exhibitors. A recent Coresight Research poll said that 67% of respondents would avoid the movie theater if the outbreak worsens compared to 75% who said they’d avoid malls and shopping centers, 73% who’d stop taking public transportation, and 68% pulling back from foreign travel. This morning, Los Angeles County, one of the biggest box office capitals in the nation, declared a local and public state of emergency amid seven cases of the COVID-19 with California Governor Gavin Newsome issuing a statewide emergency today after the state’s first death.
All of this has led to some exhibs figuring a 20% attendance decline in April from its norm. Some tell Deadline they’re already lowering their projections for March’s arsenal of event pics including Onward (originally figured at a potential $40M-$50M debut this weekend), A Quiet Place Part II (originally a $55M-$60M expected), and Mulan (an anticipated $100M when it hits tracking tomorrow). As of yesterday, it was forecasted by Deadline industry sources that Disney/Pixar’s Onward could pull in $90M-$105M in its global start, half of that coming from its opening weekend in U.S./Canada.
In the same breathe, there are some exhibitors are who over the moon about the Thanksgiving 007 release date, now expecting that they’ll make an exorbitant amount of money from the five-day holiday traffic, further boosted by one of the biggest moviegoing day of the year, Black Friday.
“This is testing the monolithic nature of these studios,” says Dergarabedian about coronavirus and the potential hurdles at the box office , “distributors have to be super nimble in this environment to create a situation that allows for the best outcome for their movies.”
Below a chart on how key territories’ B.O. was impacted by the coronavirus, data from Comscore.