Amid growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, ticket sales took a dive over the weekend, marking the lowest numbers the North American box office has seen in at least 20 years.
Receipts totaled about $55.3 million in U.S. and Canada theaters, according to studio estimates Sunday. Not since 2000 has weekend box office revenue been so low, according to data firm Comscore, when $54.5 million in tickets were sold on a quiet September weekend. More people went to the movies the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001.
Disney’s latest release from Pixar, “Onward,” remained the top film, earning $10.5 million in its second weekend. The Christian romance “I Still Believe” from Lionsgate brought in $9.5 million. Sony’s comic-book adaptation “Bloodshot,” with Vin Diesel, grossed an estimated $9.3 million in its debut. The Blumhouse horror satire “The Hunt” opened with $5.3 million.
All of those totals were notably below expectations. Most films last week had aimed to do 25 percent to 50 percent better. The weekend’s sales overall were down 45 percent from the weekend before, according to Comscore.
While this weekend’s crop of films weren’t expected to compete with the same timeframe last year, when “Captain Marvel” was in release, revenue was down 60 percent from the same weekend last year.
Pixar films virtually always hold well for weeks, but “Onward” dropped 73 percent from its opening weekend. “The Hunt,” which remounted its release after its debut was canceled last fall following a wave of deadly shootings, had hoped to do twice as well.
the wide majority of North American theaters remained open for business over the weekend. The continent’s two largest chains, AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas, said they wouldn’t fill theaters to more than 50 percent capacity to facilitate social distancing. Others asked moviegoers to leave empty seats around them. All pledged to clean theaters in between screenings.
Other theaters opted to close completely, including many in New York. Of the roughly 5,800 theaters in the United States, about 100 were closed over the weekend.
“With the worldwide coronavirus epidemic causing many domestic theater chains to go to reduced seating and many international territories to either completely or partially close all theaters, as well as creating uncertainty about going to crowded spaces, all titles have seen larger than expected drops,” Disney said in a statement.
Hollywood also has postponed most of its upcoming releases. Next week’s most anticipated movie, “A Quiet Place Part 2,” has been removed from the schedule. Other major releases, including Disney’s “Mulan” and the James Bond film “No Time To Die” have been put off.
That means that even if movie theaters remain open in the coming weeks, they will have little to play. Theaters could potentially play older films to help them get by.
“It’s so hard to predict how this will play out,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. “It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving situation that the entire world is trying to wrap their minds around. For the short term, obviously, there’s an impact.”
For now, it’s likely more theaters will soon close their doors. Over the weekend, cinemas were shuttered in both New Jersey’s Bergen County and Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County after local governments advised closing all entertainment venues.
Studios have also shut down production due to the pandemic. Netflix has halted production on their shows. 50 Cent also revealed that he was forced to pause production on his POWER spinoff, which star the likes of Method Man and Mary J. Blige. FX’s Atlanta, Empire, and several other Black Twitter faves, has been halted indefinitely.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.