Seven movie premiers postponed — Wuhan coronavirus is a huge blow to local industry

Society & Culture

In response to the rapidly escalating outbreak of a deadly disease in China, a total of seven Chinese movies, which were set to reach cinema screens during the Chinese New Year holiday, have been pushed back from their original release dates, according to a string of announcements (in Chinese) made by distributors on January 23.

Among the potential blockbusters that had their initial release plans scrapped were the action-comedy-mystery sequel Detective Chinatown 3 (唐人街探案3 tángrénjiē tànàn 3), the third installment of Lost in franchise Lost in Russia (囧妈 jiǒngmā), the family-friendly animation Boonie Bears: The Wild Life (熊出没 xióngchūmò), the biographical sports drama Leap (夺冠 duóguàn), and other less-known releases.

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The announcements made by their distributors all say that the delays were caused by the rampant spread of the novel virus, which has claimed the lives of 17 people so far and shows no sign of receding. “Movies only constitute a minor part of life. Safety and health are the most valuable things. Given that the virus can spread easily and quickly in indoor places like movie theaters, we have decided to cancel the release over the holiday,” the distributor of Leap wrote on Weibo without announcing a new release date for the movie. Most of them also noted that they were in contact with theaters and ticketing platforms to give refunds to customers who already purchased tickets.

Following the announcements, Imax said that it fully supported the decision, which it believed was “the best course of action in an unfortunate situation.” In a statement released today, the Canadian theater company wrote, “We have every expectation that these films will be released in 2020 and that audience demand for these releases will remain high. Our thoughts are with the Chinese people, for whom we wish a swift resolution to this issue and a safe and healthy Chinese New Year.”

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Prior to the unforeseen withdrawals, Maoyan, one of the biggest online ticketing platforms in China, predicted that the seven movies would gross at least 1.4 billion yuan ($201.8 million) between Friday and Saturday. In wake of the news, shares of some major Chinese film companies fell sharply today, the last trading day before the Chinese New Year. Wanda Pictures, the distributor of Detective Chinatown 3, closed about 7 percent lower, off nearly 20 percent over the last five trading days.

Some foreign entertainment companies are likely to be affected, too. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners, said that given how heavily Imax relied on the festival for major benefits in the past two years, the cancellations’ impact on the company could be “meaningful” this year.

The Chinese New Year frame, which runs roughly a week, is the biggest time of the year for Chinese movie companies. Last year, the total box office intake during this period hit a record-high 5.83 billion yuan ($860 million), up from 5.77 billion yuan ($831.8 million) in 2018. With a slew of highly anticipated movies being shelved for an indefinite period, the Chinese movie industry is facing a tough time ahead.