Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, industry analysts expected losses of a few hundred million dollars. But as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread and media entertainment conglomerates see their stocks plummet, the estimated losses continue to rise. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the theatrical sector. With movie theaters closed across major regions of the globe—including all 5,400 theaters in the United States and all 70,000 theaters in China—Hollywood is looking at historic box office losses.
Last year saw a record $42.2 billion in global ticket sales. With varying international markets weathering the pandemic in different ways, it has been difficult for industry experts to provide estimates for 2020’s worldwide total. Projections are made all the more challenging and incomplete with the significant reshuffling that has affected the release schedule. Most major blockbuster releases are fleeing to the latter half of 2020 and the start of 2021. But with the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest box office regions, still on lockdown, a drop of around 40 percent or more is realistic. American theaters have been closed since late March while Chinese theaters have largely been shuttered since late January.
Domestically, the situation is equally as dire. Last year saw an $11.4 billion haul, which was a 4 percent dip from 2018 but still among the largest totals in history. Assuming—perhaps naively—that theaters are re-opened by mid-June and that foot traffic immediately returns to normal, the North American box office could hit $7 billion, according to The Hollywood Reporter. More realistically, however, a three-month exhibitor closure and an expected adjustment period as the public regains confidence in theatrical experiences will lead to between $6.3 billion and $6.8 billion, per the outlet.
According to The Numbers, the last time domestic ticket sales totaled less than $7 billion was in 1998 ($6.7 billion). The preceding years of 1997 ($6.3 billion) and 1996 ($5.7 billion) weren’t much better. But when adjusting for inflation, 1998 ($10.6 billion), 1997 ($10.15 billion), and 1996 ($9.4 billion) all come out over this year’s projected total. We are primed for the worst box office year in more than 25 years.
Major moneymakers such as A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, No Time to Die, Black Widow, Top Gun: Maverick, and Wonder Woman 1984 have already been pushed to later 2020 release dates. Significant blockbusters such as F9, Jungle Cruise, The Eternals, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Ghostbusters: Aftermath have all be re-routed to 2021, which will also feel the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak. A majority of these films were expected to threaten the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office.
Thus far, Disney has kept Pixar’s Soul in its original June 19 slot while Warner Bros. has not yet moved Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet out of its planned July 17 release. Hopefully, the situation does not worsen to the point that these features need to be delayed. But right now, Hollywood is operating on a system of optimism. Rarely has nature aligned with our best hopes.