Summer movie meltdown as COVID shutdowns devastate box office

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Summer movie meltdown as COVID shutdowns devastate box office
Movie studios have been forced to rethink how they release blockbuster movies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last summer moviegoers in the U.S. and Canada spent more than $4.85 billion at the box office, and this year Hollywood was hoping to gross that much or more, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Theaters closed, and studios had no place to show their blockbusters.

This is a tale of two movies: "Tenet" and "Mulan," each postponed several times due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Together, they tell the story of a movie season unlike any other.

"I think this is the most unprecedented turn of events in the film industry, perhaps ever," veteran box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian said.

"Mulan" will bypass U.S. theaters to stream on Disney+ for subscribers willing to pay about $30 extra to see it at home.

"Tenet" was supposed to be a summer blockbuster, but now it won't reach U.S. theaters until September, and then only in limited release.

"The summer movie season is something I've been tracking for nearly 30 years," Dergarabedian said. "This is the first time we really don't have a summer movie season."

"Top Gun: Maverick" had to be moved from June to December.

The sequel to one of Tom Cruise's biggest hits had to be postponed after a seismic shock to an exhibition business already facing considerable challenges before the spread of COVID-19.

"And, it's definitely causing a lot of consternation, a lot of sleepless nights for all sides of the business," Dergarabedian said.

He is the Senior Analyst for Comscore, a company that tabulates box office numbers for the industry.

Eyewitness News Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon asked him if the current challenges faced by the industry will hasten changes already underway.

"This absolutely accelerates the conversation about windows, meaning the time between when a film is released in theaters and when it's released online or on streaming," Dergarabedian said.

"Unhinged," starring Russell Crowe, is set for release later this month in areas of the country where theaters have reopened, as they have in parts of Europe, but in England receipts for this title were the equivalent of just $229,000 on opening weekend.

That's just a fraction of what a picture could earn typically.

It's one sign that few people are willing to risk going out to see a movie right now.