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Putting Studio Releases on Coronavirus Hold the Right Choice

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Friday, 13 March 2020 11:13 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In a week where cancellations are being announced quicker than even the nana-second, modern-day news cycle can make public, four major Hollywood studio releases were postponed on Thursday due to concerns over the rapidly spreading Corona virus.

The first to go was "A Quiet Place Part II."

It was scheduled for wide release next week but has now been indefinitely postponed. For Paramount Studios — which hasn’t had a hit yet this year — this was a particularly difficult choice to make. Within an hour, Sony’s "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" — due on March 27 — was pushed back to August (a most undesirable month for new movie releases).

Next to go was Universal’s "F9," also known as "Fast and Furious 9"  — which was moved back a full year to April 2021. The final big title of the day to get the ax was "Mulan" — the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1998 animated feature which was also slated for a March 27 release.

These postponements of the highest-profile spring titles comes on the heels of the rescheduling of the latest James Bond flick (the ironically-titled “No Time to Die”) two weeks ago which was switched from April to the equally desirable month of November.

Given the cancellation of multiple sporting events and other movie-related gatherings — the South by Southwest (SXSW) and Tribeca Film Festivals, among others — the decision to put so many potentially lucrative features on hold until who knows when was indeed a wise choice, especially from political, public relations and global health perspectives.

The last thing Hollywood needs at the moment is the perception of unbridled greed or having a blatant disregard for human life.

If however, you think this (hopefully temporary) postponement of what is easily billions of dollars worth of cinematic revenue was done purely for humanitarian reasons, think again.

Unless they’re new or clueless, anyone working in or around the movie business is keenly aware that the bulk of box office revenues for most movies come from places outside of the U.S. "Most" meaning action/adventure fare released in the 90 day warm-weather stretch (mid-March through mid-July) where studios take in roughly 75% of their annual income. This is how they can afford to lose money on the majority of more cerebral, generally low-performing awards season/prestige titles.

All of the above titles are more-or-less action movies which are low on English dialogue (or, in the case of "A Quiet Place Part II" — almost no dialogue) and high on visuals, i.e., explosions, fights, car chases and other forms of non-verbal storytelling. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out these type of movies transcend tongues and other minutia which can be “lost in translation.” Almost every adult (and most children) the world over can put together the plot of a story through basic, high-octane visuals.

This is why action movies do so well in Asia in general, but particularly in China.

Easily the movie with the most on the line is “F9.” In April, 2017, "The Fate of the Furious"—  the eighth installment in the franchise – pulled in “just” $226 in the U.S. but did over $1 billion internationally with over $392 million of that coming from — you guessed it — China.

While the U.S. and the United Kingdom provided the top two individual country takes, China’s $83 million was the most from all other non-English speaking countries for the last James Bond flick ("Spectre" from 2015). Although China was "only" responsible for $34 million at the box office for the 2018 "A Quiet Place," that figure was over four times higher than the next closest non-English country (Mexico with $7 million). 

Comparisons for "Mulan" are tough as there are no official Chinese numbers for the 1992 animated version, however with its all-Asian cast, Chinese setting and rare PG-13 rating (the first such rating for a Disney movie), it’s a safe bet Disney was banking heavily on a warm Chinese reception.

In the first 20 days of 2020, the box office receipts in China exceeded $3.9 billion, up a whopping 157% from the same time last year.

Since closing over 70,000 movie theaters there on Jan. 21, those increases will surely be lost as the best case scenario has Chinese theaters re-opening in mid-April.

If you’re looking for a silver lining amongst all of this doom and gloom, there is some good news. Streaming services such as Netflix, AppleTV+, Disney+ and Amazon we still be releasing new product, albeit not quite on a par with Hollywood feature films.

Think of it like the strike-shortened 1987 NFL season.

It’s not the genuine article but it’ll do in a pinch.

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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MichaelClark
The decision to put so many potentially lucrative features on hold was indeed a wise choice, especially from political, public relations, and global health perspectives.The last thing Hollywood needs at the moment is the perception of a blatant disregard for human life.
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2020-13-13
Friday, 13 March 2020 11:13 AM
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