Efforts by the Italian government to curtail the spread of the coronavirus in Europe are already having a major impact on the country’s film box office, which could affect the industry in the United States.
In Italy, there are 7,375 cases of the coronavirus, an increase of 1,492 from earlier this week, with the number of deaths rising from 233 to 366. As part of its containment policies, theaters have been largely shuttered in parts of the country, affecting, among other things, Italy’s box office.
“There is literally no playbook for this ever-changing situation but as of now, the North American box-office is performing as expected with films like ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Onward’ performing above or at least in line with expectations,” Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Fox News. “As time goes on and some of the bigger blockbusters of 2020 are released, the performance of those films will, of course, be looked at carefully to see if their performance is in line with what was expected. It's really all about the box office numbers and they are obviously a direct reflection of moviegoing and the marketplace at large.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Italian box office weekend for March 5 through 8 turned up a shockingly low $503,000, a 79 percent week-on-week drop. The sum fell 95 percent lower than the exact same weekend in 2019. As fears of the coronavirus spread, experts wonder if the U.S. could be impacted similarly.
It’s worth noting that the significantly low box office numbers reported throughout Italy came over the weekend, prior to Sunday’s announcement of new restrictions. As a result, the Italian film industry can likely expect to take more of a hit as the world braces for a further outbreak.
This begs the question of whether or not fear of the coronavirus is enough to impact the box office without any governmental restrictions. Maureen Bradley, professor at the University of Victoria, noted that there’s anecdotal evidence that theaters are being impacted in North America.
“I went to see ‘Onward’ Friday,” Bradley, who teaches a class specifically about Pixar movies, told Fox News. “We did the same thing when ‘Finding Dory’ came out. The theater for that screening was sold out. For ‘Onward,’ the cinema was 20 percent full.”
She noted that Pixar's release of a movie in March is unusual and likely contributed to the low turnout. However, changing a film's release date can have the same effect, and the coronavirus has already hit the box office calendar.
“No Time to Die,” Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as James Bond, announced it was pushing back its release date by seven months in an apparent reaction to fears that theaters in key markets such as China and Europe will be shuttered or empty.
“Moving release dates is a huge deal, to say the least, and though it's unlikely that North American release dates will be shifted at this point, the studios will have to determine what is best for their films and filmmakers,” Dergarabedian told Fox News. "’No Time To Die’ was a unique situation given the high-stakes nature of that film for the studios involved and that Bond films have traditionally been released in November in the modern era. So it made sense for that film and, of course, was a bold (and smart) decision on their part to move the release date.”
While North America may be safe for now, Italy’s box office has already hurt some films. The Italian biopic “Hidden Away,” for example, was favored for a top performance after winning a best actor award for star Elio Germano at the Berlin International Film Festival last month. However, as Variety notes, the film only turned up a scarce €90.532 ($103,000). Sony’s “The Grudge” landed in second with $59,000 and Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s “Bad Boy for Life” earned just $44,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.