While resurgent waves of COVID-19 have caused new lockdowns and stay-at-home restrictions in places including California, Hong Kong and Australia’s Victoria State, nearly half of the world’s cinemas are now back in operation, according to data from the U.K.’s Gower Street Analytics.
That should come as some relief to exhibitors and distributors who, in addition to coronavirus, have been rocked by other recent industry developments. Last week, AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures ended their long-running hostilities by agreeing significantly shortened exclusive theatrical windows, while this week, Disney further disappointed many exhibitors by announcing “Mulan” will go straight to streaming in markets where its Disney Plus service is operational.
Gower Street data shows that cinemas representing 48% of the global box office were open over the past weekend. That figure is up from 41% a week earlier, and a significant leap from 28% on July 18, before Chinese cinemas returned to activity.
Most cinemas in the world now operate with physical distancing or other capacity restraints, meaning that revenue growth cannot yet match the increasing number of active venues. Gower Street calculates that global box office was worth $90 million over the weekend to Sunday.
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The company uses historical box office data from individual cinemas to calculate each territory’s box office availability, rather than raw screen numbers. It then compares those figures with data from Comscore, whose numbers are incomplete, but are claimed to be the closest to global box office reporting.
China, which has the largest number of commercial cinema screens in the world, is itself still in the process of reopening. Gower Street’s data points to 54% box office availability in China in the first weekend after reopening, and 73% over the second weekend.
China was not the only contributor to the global expansion. An enlarged re-opening process in the U.K., notably with a restart by the Cineworld chain, and in Russia, with Moscow allowed to re-open on Saturday, also helped.
Larger numbers of available Spanish cinemas lifted the revenues of Santiago Segura’s “Father There is Only One 2” and Spanish box office by 172% to $2.4 million. They also raised the box office availability score in Europe, Middle East and Africa from 50% the previous week to 59% over the last weekend.
The weekend contribution lifted the global year-to-date total to $6.4 billion. That is a 74%, or $18.8 billion, shortfall compared with the $24.5 billion cumulative gross that worldwide cinemas have normally notched by this point in the year.
The biggest losses to date have come from the international market, which is some $12.8 billion below its three-year average including China, or $8 billion if China is excluded from the equation.
China is normally the world’s second largest box office market, but was this year slammed by nearly six months of mandatory closures, which have caused $4.8 billion of lost revenue. Gower Street calculates that year-to-date box office in China is down by a massive 94%.
The July 31-Aug. 2 weekend saw the number of functioning Chinese theaters increase, with “The Enigma of Arrival” drawing $3.6 million to become the first new release local film to take the number one spot. It was followed by a $3.2 million score earned in a single day by the re-released “Interstellar.”
In contrast, the North American (or domestic) box office is still heavily damaged by COVID-19, and the number of theaters open in most states fell last week. California re-closed indoor venues. The number of U.S. cinemas reporting box office last weekend fell from over 1,000 to approximately 950. But the number of Canadian cinemas reporting data rose above 200 for the first time since March.
North American grosses are estimated by Gower Street to be $4.7 billion below their three-year average.
What business that currently remains is largely driven by drive-ins. Comscore estimates they accounted for 64% of North American box office last weekend. Saturday box office topped $2 million for the second consecutive weekend — the past two Saturdays being the highest single days since the mid-March shut down.