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Yell cut: The coronavirus is putting a pause on the film industry

by Mason Kupiainen The second-largest box-office market in the world is China, trailing just behind the United States. Before the coronavirus outbreak, China was close to topping the U.S. box office, but now it has become improbable. Big budget blockbusters, like Warcraft. Transformers: Age of Extension, Pacific Rim, and Rampage made a majority of their money in China and depended on those numbers to help them from not becoming complete disasters. Since China’s box office has been shut down for the time being, this has put an enormous question mark on the success of upcoming films like Mulan and F9, and the effects on the industry as a whole. 

What does this mean for the American film industry?

American film studios have yet to feel the impact of the virus due to non-Chinese films being released during the New Year holiday period, but if the virus continues to escalate, the impact could translate to a $1 - $2 billion in lost revenue for the film industry. As mentioned above, this could affect many upcoming big-budget blockbusters like F9, Mulan, and Wonder Woman 1984. Some movies, like the James Bond film No Time to Die, have even had to cancel their releases in China over concerns about the virus. If other films do this as well, Hollywood could take considerable damage. 

What does this mean for China’s film industry?

In an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, many of China’s entertainment industries have been closed, including their film industry. The box office took a hit beginning Jan. 25 when the virus became an international problem. This was right in the middle of the Lunar New Year, which is the largest movie-going season for China.  During the first weekend of the Lunar New Year last year, China’s box office brought in around $500 million. This year, it managed to scrape together $2 million. If their box office continues to be closed, America's film studios will take a hit, but not one that will cause much harm. The studios feeling the major impact will mostly be China’s. According to an article from Deadline, many of China’s film studios have closed indefinitely, with many films putting a halt on shooting. One of the high profile projects to close production is an upcoming Donnie Yen movie, Polar Rescue.  Yen is the star of the Ip Man series. This movie began filming before the Lunar New Year holiday, but quickly got shelved by producers until the end of 2020. 

How this could affect film festivals

Another aspect of the film industry looking to be impacted by the coronavirus are film festivals. Beijing and Shanghai’s International Film Festivals take place in April and June. If the virus evolves or continues to spread, the film festival could take a major hit. The Women’s Film Festival in Hong Kong, originally planned for March, has also been postponed until further notice. The Berlin Film Festival could also see an impact since Chinese delegates could have trouble making attendance. A similar situation happened back in 2003 during the Cannes Film Festival when SARS was a concern.

Can China’s film industry recover?

At this moment, it’s unclear if the Chinese film industry could recover from such a blow. According to an article in Variety, in the past 18 months China’s film industry suffered due to censorship rules and changes in its taxes. The industry was clamoring more than ever for this season to replenish itself. Now with this one-two blow, producers, studios, and investors are worried. If this does carry over into the summer movie season, there’s no telling the impact this could cause. If theaters are still not open and operating, the effect will go beyond just the film industry. Leaked and pirated films could also add to the revenue lost from theaters. With theaters being shut down and movies being forced to shove back their release dates indefinitely, people who have been waiting to see these movies may be forced to pirate them, delivering another blow to the industry. If this does become an issue, the losses from these illegal ways people could watch the movies could be tough to reclaim.  Even if theaters do open soon, there’s no telling how people will react. There could be wide fear about going out, being in close quarters with others, and risking catching the virus. It could take quite a while for people to ease back into the groove of things and feel comfortable going to the theater again. Why should someone go out with all the potential dangers when they can sit in the comfort of their home to watch movies? On the other hand, the pendulum could swiftly swing the other way and theaters could see a sharp spike in attendance. People could be eager to get back out and live their lives again. At this point, it’s hard to tell how audiences will react and how much damage will be caused by the coronavirus, but the threat of a film industry catastrophe is very real.
Sources: Screen Rant, Deadline, Fast Company, Forbes, Variety,  Featured Image: Olivia Weinzapfel