More than 500 cinema screens have reopened in China, where the coronavirus outbreak is seen to be receding, though box office takings remain minimal as the public is mostly staying away.
State media CGTN reported that 486 theaters were open for business on Friday. On Monday, financial publication Caixin said the number had risen to 507, representing less than 5% of all cinemas in commercial operation prior to the virus outbreak.
Data from private-sector ticketing firm Maoyan showed that venues had opened in five provinces: far-flung Xinjiang; Shangdong, a coastal province that lies between Beijing and Shanghai; southern, landlocked province Sichuan; and two populous coastal regions, Fujian and Guangdong, which border Hong Kong.
The data showed that nationwide revenue on Friday totalled less than $2,000. In Fujian and Guangdong, not a single ticket was sold.
On Monday, China reported no new local cases of the virus, but confirmed 39 infections brought in from overseas, and nine more deaths, all in Wuhan, where the virus had its epicenter. Wuhan has not registered any new cases of Covid-19 for five consecutive days.
Most of the films currently available are re-runs of recent and popular Chinese movies, a move that is intended to minimize risk. According to Maoyan, 2019 Chinese crime thriller “Sheep Without A Shepherd” led the box office chart on Monday, ahead of new release iQIYI-backed animation “Spycies.”
China Film Group, the country’s leading state-owned distributor, and the official distributor of all the Hollywood movies imported on revenue sharing terms, last week unveiled a list of titles for which it would support releases on in which the exhibitors keep all income. These included “Green Book” and “A Dog’s Purpose.” There has been no further sign that their releases are imminent.
Warner Bros. used its Chinese social media site last week to tease a possible release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” as a helpful bid to reinvigorate Chinese cinema-going. However, it remains without a date, and does not appear on ticketing company websites.
A small number of other titles are expected to release in the next two weeks, including “Into The Rainbow,” (aka “The Wonder: Chasing Rainbows”) a China-New Zealand co-production from 2017 which was originally scheduled to release in China in mid-January.
While the timing of a more significant mass reopening of cinemas is moot, and depends on the decisions of individual provincial governors, as well as the trend in coronavirus cases, some other parts of the Chinese economy are clearly getting back to work.
That has been made evident by renewed buildup of nitrogen dioxide emissions, a byproduct of industrial activity, as observed by the European Space Agency’s satellites, and by growth in the number of point-of-sale transactions processed by Tencent’s financial services operations.
“In February and the early part of March, merchants, particularly the smaller merchants who accept QR code payment, were not actually at work and therefore not accepting payment. As March wore on, however, the POS merchants recovered relatively quickly as consumers began to work and get out and about. More recently, the QR code transaction volume has picked up as the small and medium-sized merchants return to work. We are seeing a recovery,” said Tencent chief strategy officer James Mitchell last week on a conference call with financial analysts.
The return-to-work trend in mainland China stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the world, where new cases of coronavirus are escalating fast and governments are taking drastic measure to contain the virus and defray its massive economic damage. Follow all Variety‘s coronavirus coverage here.