The Effects of COVID-19 on the Film Industry, Today and Tomorrow

The impact of COVID-19 on the world has undeniably been, and continues to be, socially, economically, and most importantly, medically, tremendous. The film industry might not be what one immediately thinks of as being particularly impacted, yet here we are. Therefore, let me preface by saying that the health and wellbeing of everyone around the world, ensuring treatment, and everyone doing their part in preventing further spread of SARS-CoV-2 are of the utmost importance right now.

We first saw the global box office take a hit when film theatres in China (the world’s 2nd largest film market) understandably halted operation in response to the virus. It’s impossible to accurately quantify potential losses, but considering the $93.7m Pokémon: Detective Pikachu made in China alone in 2019, 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog could’ve been looking at $400m worldwide instead of its current $306.7m (as one obvious comparison). Film theatres across the world eventually followed suit (my hometown’s largest cinema shut on March 10th) as governments continued to advise against large social gatherings, especially in enclosed areas. The box office in the US has plummeted, with continuous drops in revenue (understandably, due to fewer open theatres and fewer attendees) resulting in the lowest-grossing weekend 11 since 1995.

Film studios have done their part as well, with numerous high-profile films being postponed, e.g. No Time To Die moving from April to November or Fast and Furious 9 moving nearly a year from May to April 2021. Similarly, films such as A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, and The New Mutants (the poor film originally scheduled to release in 2018) have been postponed indefinitely. In an unprecedented move, films currently in theatres such as Birds of Prey, The Gentlemen and The Hunt have received early home-video releases, whereas DreamWorks’ Trolls World Tour will also become available for home purchase on its scheduled theatrical release date. Production of many projects has halted, including Disney’s The Little Mermaid remake, Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi, Universal’s Jurassic World: Dominion, Warner Bros.’ The Batman and Matrix 4, Netflix’s Stranger Things 4, and many more.

Unfortunately, this is going to have precipitous effects on the film exhibition industry. Due to the combined closure of theatres and lack/delay of films, theatres are going to lose high amounts of money. Generally speaking, theatres keep ~50% of ticket sales revenue, much of which is reinvested into theatre upkeep, with the remainder going to the studios. This low profit margin explains their high concessions prices, the source of 85% of their profit. With nobody to pay for tickets or popcorn, we can expect many small-scale/independent theatres shut down. This will eventually trickle upwards into film studios, with lower revenue resulting in less content production, and ultimately, fewer jobs. Sadly, much like small theatres, smaller ‘indie’ studios like the beloved A24 are also at risk.

The sector I expect to remain largely unaffected, and potentially grow, is streaming. Netflix is sure to retain its stronghold and a rise in Amazon Prime subscriptions would not be surprising. With its eerily timed March 24th UK launch, Disney+ may draw in a much larger audience than it otherwise would have. Disney has already released Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker early on the platform, and with its library of family-friendly content, it is likely to be quite successful during this period of self-isolation.

We are entering an uncertain time in history. It seems strange to consider that had this happened a year ago, we might not have seen Avatar overtaken as the highest-grossing film of all time, but that’s besides the point. This pandemic will likely change the world drastically, and much like the original 1954 Godzilla was a metaphor for the effects of nuclear warfare, we could see our fears and uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 reflected in entertainment down the line. For the time-being, however, let us all hope for the best, do what we must to stay healthy and safe, and remain optimistic for the future.


Image: via Pikrepo