As coronavirus continues its deadly march across the globe, the outbreak is wreaking havoc with Hollywood’s efforts to launch major movies and shows.
In the process, companies are asking employees to delay work trips to countries such as China, Japan, Italy and South Korea, the regions that have been the most affected by the disease, and they are scuttling promotional campaigns for several upcoming blockbusters.
Studios have already cancelled plans for China premieres for films such as Disney’s “Mulan” and the James Bond adventure “No Time to Die” — moves that could cost those movies tens of millions in box office revenue. Sony’s “Bloodsport” was also expected to screen in China, but that release date remains up in the air.
Most of these films hadn’t gotten the official word from Chinese authorities that they would be allowed to screen in the country, but there’s little chance that will come any time soon, as movie theaters in China remain closed. There are also indications that several upcoming movies such as “Mulan,” “The Grudge,” and “Onward” will delay their release in Italy, where the number of cases recently jumped to 400.
No major U.S. films will debut in the country this weekend. Globally, the disease, named COVID-19, has infected over 82,500 people and killed 2,810. Healthcare experts expect that number to climb as coronavirus continues to spread to other parts of the world.
No studios were willing to go on the record about their response to the crisis, but privately they said they were taking “a wait-and-see” approach as the number of hotspots expands. Many are in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization as they assess the rapidly changing situation.
Most of the major studios have begun assembling advisory teams comprising members of their production, marketing, finance, and human resources staff to assess the potential impact of the disease. Part of their task is to figure out how staff in these affected areas can remain safe. In some cases, they’re encouraging people in areas where there are a growing number of cases to work from home, and helping to ensure the technology is in place to make that happen.
Another topic of discussion is the business ramifications of a health crisis that has the potential to grow into an epidemic or pandemic. Studios are trying to determine if they should move major releases to avoid debuting films in parts of the world where coronavirus is spreading.
At the same time, they’re assessing what impact such moves will have on other movies that are scheduled to debut later in 2020 and 2021. Studio executives believe that the theatre closures in China and Italy, as well as the spread of the disease in major markets such as South Korea could result in billions of dollars in lost ticket sales.
Director Niki Caro of ‘Mulan’ and President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production Sean Bailey (Getty Images for Disney)
“Mulan,” a $200 million adventure film with a cast of Asian actors, was expected to resonate in markets such as China, where it may not play for weeks or months. Rival studios say they are watching to see how Disney handles the challenges of debuting the film at a time when theatres in some countries are closed and people are hesitant to spend time in public spaces, before determining what to do with their own upcoming releases.
The Bond film, “Wonder Woman: 1984,” and the ninth “Fast & Furious” movie are among the major films debuting in the coming months that had planned robust international rollouts.
Those could be impacted if the disease continues to spread. The latest 007 adventure had originally intended to take a promotional swing through China, South Korea, and Japan, but those plans have been abandoned.
So far, studios such as Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, and Disney are also still expected to attend CinemaCon along with the stars of their upcoming movies. The annual exhibition industry trade show is being held in Las Vegas at the end of March and brings attendees from across the globe — though Chinese companies have cancelled on account of the travel ban.
In a note to participants this week, Mitch Neuhauser, managing director of CinemaCon, and John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, the group behind the convention, said they still expected the event to be well-attended.
“An encouraging measure of the impact of coronavirus is that the number of concerned emails or phone calls coming to us are minimal,” they wrote. “We are, though, inundated with our normal number of emails and calls that are all about the planning of the convention.”