In the United States, we’ve only recently started seeing movie theaters closing their doors because of the covid-19 pandemic, but in China, things have been shut down for weeks. Now that the country seems to finally be turning the corner, Chinese studios and regulators are coming together to try and bring their box office back from the brink. It’s a model for something we could eventually see happen here.
In a major step, Chinese health authorities reported no new local infections for the first time since the outbreak started, and so the country is slowly but surely trying to figure out ways to boost the economy in the epidemic’s wake. According to the Hollywood Reporter, China’s movie industry is starting to reignite after facing over a month of closures due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. A few cinemas in remote areas of the country have started reopening, but so far they’re not attracting people—with only about $1,000 in nationwide ticket sales over the course of the week.
China’s Film Bureau and the state-backed studio China Film Group are working to give cinemas the go-ahead to screen some of the country’s biggest blockbusters for free, letting them keep 100 percent of ticket revenue. Not only does it help struggling cinemas reopen their doors, but it also encourages them to adjust prices for attendees. Right now, the films on the docket are The Wandering Earth, China’s second highest-grossing film of all time, Wolf Warrior 2, Wolf Totem, and the Lebanese film Capernaum.
But it’s also bringing in support from Western studios. Deadline reports that Warner Bros. is planning to screen a special 4K 3D re-release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a franchise that was wildly successful in China. No word when this will happen or whether it will be connected to the previously mentioned revenue plan. According to Deadline, we could also see other major titles like the Avengers series, Interstellar, and Inception return to China in re-releases—in addition to films that have already been cleared by censors, like Dolittle, Jojo Rabbit, and Sonic the Hedgehog, that had their originally planned debuts scrapped by theater closures.
Hollywood has been making major adjustments in the wake of covid-19. Several movies that were scheduled to arrive in theaters in the coming months have been delayed. Some that were already in theaters or just about to come out have even been earmarked for early home release—including Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot, which will get a digital release on Tuesday.
Once we turn the corner on the pandemic in the coming months, U.S. audiences may face similar anxieties about returning to movie theaters. Hollywood may take a page out of China’s playbook and try to coax viewers back with discounts and partnerships, or maybe it’ll try a different strategy. Either way, it most certainly won’t be business as usual.
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