No Time To Die, the 25th installment in the 007 saga and Daniel Craig’s final outing as the secret agent, was expected to become the highest-grossing Bond movie in franchise history. But the film’s financial prospects were thrown into question over the weekend, after London’s Sunday Times reported the Chinese premiere of No Time To Die had been cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. A studio insider noted that even if Chinese cinemas reopen in time for the film’s April premiere, the film’s creative team (including Craig, Ana De Armas, and co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge) wouldn’t be cleared by doctors to travel to China.
The Chinese movie business has grown substantially in the past decade. The country represents the world’s second-largest box office and was expected to overtake the U.S. this year. A strong showing in the People’s Republic can be crucial to any film’s financial success. For example, Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing film of all time, brought in $614.32 million in China — about one fifth of the $2.8 billion total it raked in worldwide. Five years ago, the 007 film Spectre grossed $83.51 million of the $880.67 million it earned worldwide in China.
The coronavirus has brought the movie business in China to a standstill. Nearly all of the country’s 70,000 theaters have been shuttered since before the Lunar New Year.
Traditionally, the late-January holiday marks the biggest moviegoing week of the year in China, not unlike the week of Christmas in the U.S. Last year’s earnings around the Lunar New Year totalled $507 million. But this year, after Chinese studios postponed all six of the major movie releases slated for late January, grosses for the same period this year fell to just $2 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Experts estimate the Chinese film industry has already lost between $1 and $2 billion in revenue since the start of the year.
No Time To Die is hardly the only Hollywood blockbuster being impacted by the coronavirus. Sonic the Hedgehog was expected to open in China on February 26. According to Forbes, the $85 million film’s bottom line is safe — even without the PRC, Sonic is looking at an estimated $355 million in global revenue. But if the film performed even somewhat well in China, it’d rake in upwards of $100 million more, putting Sonic on track to unseat 2016’s Warcraft as the highest-grossing film based on a video game to-date.
The fate of Disney’s highly-anticipated live-action remake of Mulan is especially tenuous. Disney was expecting the film to be one of its biggest global hits of 2020. Forbes estimates that if Mulan did “pretty well” in China, it could match the $154 million gross of Kung Fu Panda 3. If it performed spectacularly, the movie could be looking at the $392 million gross of Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious. But even by conservative estimates, if Chinese theaters aren’t back open by the end of March, Disney will likely be deducting six figures from its bottom line.
Top Gun: Maverick, this year’s highly-anticipated sequel to the 1985 Tom Cruise classic, has so much invested in the Chinese film market — er, more accurately, Chinese backers have so much money invested in Top Gun — that filmmakers quietly removed Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches from the back of Maverick’s leather flight jacket. (Mainland China doesn’t have diplomatic relations with countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.) Critics accused Paramount of yielding to censorship, because the change was likely a bid to get the film approved to screen in China. Forbes called Top Gun: Maverick a “must-hit” release for Paramount, but if the outbreak hasn’t ceased by June, its hopes for a boon from Chinese theatergoers could be dashed.
While the current situation in China is worrisome for Hollywood filmmakers, it’s been devastating for China’s homegrown movie business. Jiang Wusheng, CEO of Chinese distributor United Entertainment Partners, told Variety that losses for exhibitors have been “extreme.” His own company was forced to shelve four films amid the coronavirus outbreak. With so many people in China stuck at home indefinitely, Jiang added there’s a risk unreleased films will be leaked and pirated online, making it even harder for studios and theater owners to recoup their losses. Not to mention, once the worst of the outbreak has passed and theaters begin to reopen, people could remain wary of gathering in public places and putting themselves at risk.
It’ll be some time before we fully understand the global economic impact of the coronavirus. But the outbreak is undeniably affecting businesses in every sector of industry. There’ve been mass cancellations of music festivals and parties across Asia, as venues shut their doors indefinitely. Apple became one of the first global corporations to reveal how the coronavirus has affected its business on Monday, when the company revealed it’d slashed its sales expectations for the first quarter of 2020, which had been projected to be robust just a month prior. With an entire nation on lockdown, the repercussions will be far greater than a dip in moviegoing. But the epidemic’s power to fell a booming industry in the span of a month is chilling nonetheless.