Coronavirus Goes For Tinseltown: A Crisis At The Box Office

With public spaces becoming ghost towns overnight and coronavirus not going anywhere soon, Hollywood has to adapt to survive.

No Time to Die, the latest Bond film, was pushed from April into November. Photo Credit: MGM and Universal.

As coronavirus grows from what seemed to be just another torment-of-the-week into a full-blown outbreak, Hollywood can be counted as a high-profile victim of the pandemonium. Numerous studios have recently announced a variety of big-budget film schedules will be pushed back to the end of the year.

Since MGM and Universal announced in early March that the release of the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die will be postponed from April to November, the film industry has followed suit. Disney has delayed the release of Mulan, The New Mutants, The Woman in the Window, The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Antlers, as well as shutting down production on seven films from different studios. Warner Bros. has suspended production on an untitled Elvis biopic starring Tom Hanks, as well as The BatmanAustin Butler, Fantastic Beasts 3, King Richard, and The Matrix 4.

From Sony, Peter Rabbit 2 was pushed, and production postponed on the adaptation of Uncharted. Universal pushed F9 and halted Jurassic World: Dominion, while Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II was pushed back and the seventh Mission: Impossible had production delayed. Netflix, too, has shut down all productions for the next two weeks, a policy they will likely extend.

Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, whose solo film was pushed back to an unknown date. Photo Credit: Marvel Studios.

The most recent film to be pushed back is Marvel’s prequel Black Widow, which will follow the eponymous character after the popularity of Captain America: Civil War. With no set release date in sight, it looks like Marvel will have taken a year-long hiatus from the theatres after its latest film, Spider-Man: Far from Home, which was released July of last year.

This news, while hardly shocking amidst the introduction of quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing, is nonetheless a surprise. In the somewhat ironic words of Scandinavian theorist Slavoj Zizek:

“It’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”

It’s a sentiment that rings true when we begin to see the rigorously designed release schedules of studios, structured in an Apple-style conference to an audience of fans and journalists, falling apart.

As a result of this, the box office has taken on a strange form. At the time of writing (March 18th), currently the Pixar film Onward leads the US domestic box office, grossing $61 million, followed by Blumhouse and Universal’s The Invisible Man at $43 million, and Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog at $22 million.

Onward, current box office champion. Photo Credit: Pixar.

The current victory of Onward at the box office may not continue for long however, with quarantines growing and theatres preparing to close. American theatre chain Regal Cinemas announced that they would close on March 17th and have no date planned to reopen.

Meanwhile, both The Invisible Man and Sonic the Hedgehog have exceeded monetary expectations, with the former easily making a profit off its $7 million-dollar budget. Sonic the Hedgehog, after well-earned online criticism over Sonic’s design, has recently beaten Detective Pikachu to become the highest-grossing video game adaptation in the US.

But it’s likely that the success of Sonic is a flash in the pan; with strict quarantine in China, the film will undoubtedly miss out on the highly desired Chinese box office intake where past video game adaptations like Warcraft and Detective Pikachu excelled.

Altered Carbon season 2, another addition to Netflix’s March roster. Photo Credit: Netflix.

Naturally, a clear entertainment model will prevail through all this: streaming. Netflix announced earlier this year that it had over 50 titles being added in the month of March, a godsend for those confined to their homes or hospital beds. Meanwhile, Disney+ continues to stumble after a successful launch. With a shortage of original programming, the current content on Disney+ supports the company’s family friendly brand while alienating an older demographic, an issue embodied by the proposed Lizzie McGuire reboot. With only Frozen II and A Wrinkle in Time due for release this month, Disney+ once again finds that its population of franchises like Marvel and Star Wars can only take it so far.

HBO, in true fashion, prevails with its quality programming. With the Stephen King adaptation The Outsider and the second season of The New Pope finales released earlier this month, March also sees the release of Westworld season 3, the premiere of The Plot Against America and My Brilliant Friend, and the end of season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

And now, against the backdrop of COVID-19, streaming has taken on new appeal, a way to easily pass the time during self-isolation. Possibly studios will decide to form deals with streaming services to release some of its smaller films earlier and ensure some sort of financial return rather than sit on a vault of postponed features. That being said, it’s unlikely that a tentpole such as Black Widow will be released via streaming. In cases like this, audiences will just have to wait and see.

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