China’s Box Office Plummets $1.91 Billion in Two Months Due to Coronavirus Crisis

View of a closed cinema after the Chinese government discouraged public gatherings due to a virus outbreak, in Beijing, China, 27 January 2020. China warned that the coronavirus outbreak is accelerating further, deepening fears about an epidemic that has affected more than 2,700 people worldwide and killed at least 80 people in the country.China coronavirus outbreak accelerating further, Beijing - 27 Jan 2020
WU HONG/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

China’s box office has plummeted $1.91 billion over the first two months of this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, but a nationwide resumption of movie theaters and production is unlikely to happen any time soon.

According to box-office data company Comscore, box-office receipts in China in January and February totaled only $238 million, compared with $2.148 billion in the comparative period in 2019, and $2.378 billion in 2018. Box office revenue for the whole of 2019 were a record $9.2 billion, having risen 5.4%.

Losses were heightened due to the fact that the Lunar New Year holiday season started on Jan. 25, much earlier compared with the usual date at the beginning of February, or in mid-February. “An early holiday season should’ve given more time for the box office to grow,” a report from China’s Ent Group said.

But many cinemas were forced to shut down just before the Lunar New Year holiday, and Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province were locked down on Jan. 23.

Ent Group said that shuttered cinemas in China are unlikely to re-open in March, and Chinese officials have stated that controls will stay in place for the film industry as a whole.

“Judging from the current situation, the film industry is not equipped to resume business yet, and we have not approved industry’s demands to resume business as of now,” said Chen Bei, deputy secretary general of the Beijing municipal government.

A joint directive from Beijing Center for Diseases Prevention and Control and Beijing Municipal Film Bureau on Feb. 26 stipulates strict guidelines for cinema operators and film crews if they wish to resume business.

Cinema operators must seek approval from the authorities to re-open movie theaters and adopt stringent measures such as selling tickets on alternate rows, requiring movie-goers to register with their real names and personal details, and auditoriums to be thoroughly disinfected after each screening.

Film crews with less than 50 people can resume filming in Beijing if they are approved, but only if their body temperature does not exceed 37.3 degree celsius. All film crew members must wear masks throughout the production, except for performers.

But film crews with more than 50 people will not be allowed to resume filming in Beijing until the plague is gone. Crew members travelling from affected areas such as Hubei province are not allowed to take part in any production in the city.

As of March 2, Covid-19 has already infected more than 80,000 in mainland China and killed 2,914 people.