Moviegoing in the United States slowed dramatically over the weekend amid the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in box office revenue falling to a 20-year low, according to initial Sunday (March 15) estimates.
An official tally won’t be finalized until Monday, but revenue is expected to come in around $56 million (that could change if Sunday traffic is worse than estimated). The last time that total ticket sales were that low in North America was a weekend in September 2000 ($54.5 million), according to Comscore. Even the first two weekends after 9/11 were higher, or $66.3 million and $59.7 million, respectively.
On Saturday, the grim prospect that cinemas will begin to close on a widespread basis began unfolding as local authorities in two Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties ordered that movie theaters close their doors. Separately, some houses in New York City, including the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn and Yonkers, and the Film Forum have gone dark. There were also some closures in the hard-hit Seattle area, Maryland, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Disney and Pixar’s family animated film Onward stayed at No. 1 in its second weekend with 10.5 million. That’s a decline of 73 percent, the steepest in Pixar history (The Good Dinosaur fell 59 percent).
Analysts say that holdovers such as Onward fell 25 percent more than they should have, while a trio of new offerings underperformed by 20 percent to 35 percent. They also note that there was a marked drop-off from Friday to Saturday.
Among the freshmen class of titles, Lionsgate and Kingdom story’s faith-based pic I Still Believe opened to $9.5 million. The last film directed by the Erwin brothers, I Can Only Imagine, started off with $17.1 million in 2018, not adjusted for inflation. I Can Only Imagine had the advantage of being based on the blockbuster Christian song of the same name from the rock band MercyMe.
Several weeks ago, many box office analysts were confident that I Still Believe could start off with $13 million to $14 million, based on tracking. However, Lionsgate has always expected around $10 million. The movie earned a glowing A Cinemascore, and performed best in the south and midwest. Insiders say Lionsgate was pleased with the film’s launch.
Sony’s new Vin Diesel action pic Bloodshot followed in third place with an estimated $9.3 million. Heading into its opening, analysts thought it would debut to at least $10 million to $12 million. The film earned a B CinemaScore.
Blumhouse took the next two spots on the chart with The Invisible Man, from Sony, and The Hunt, from Universal.
Invisible Man fell 60 percent in its second outing to $6 million for a 10-day domestic total of $64.4 million.
The Hunt — a controversial satirical thriller that depicts “elites” kidnapping and then hunting “deplorables” — opened to just $5.3 million after earning a C+ CinemaScore. Last fall, the movie’s release was pulled in the wake of several mass shootings across the country.
The fast-unfolding events of the past week have left Hollywood and and exhibition industries reeling as they face billions of dollars in losses because of the coronavirus.
On Friday, many U.S. theaters — including mega-chains Regal, AMC and Cinemark — are operating at reduced capacity in order to provide plenty of room between patrons. Going forward, analysts predict that more will close because of increased crowd-control rules set by local authorities. Also, there’s a lack of product after this weekend because of so many upcoming new releases being delayed.
“The marketplace has been hit very hard by the coronavirus and the effects this weekend are undeniable,” says one distribution source. “The international marketplace is even worse as numbers seemed to fall apart in the U.K. and Germany as theaters are temporarily closing all over the world.”
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.