Much of public life in the United States essentially ground to a halt this week. In the entertainment world, theme parks shut down, Broadway went dark, studios pulled major tentpoles from their release calendar, and virtually all Hollywood movies and TV shows halted production as coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across North America.
The exhibition industry, a sector of the film business reliant on the communal experience, has been the one institution reluctant to entirely close its doors amid the ongoing public health crisis. Prior to Friday, fears of coronavirus didn’t appear to impact movie going. But this weekend’s box office results display that significantly fewer people are going to their local multiplex.
Ticket sales in North America hit the lowest levels in over two decades, generating roughly $55.3 million between Friday and Sunday. Only one movie, Disney-Pixar’s “Onward,” made more than $10 million over the weekend. The last time revenues were this depressed was a weekend in mid-September of 2000 ($54.5 million). The steep decline pushed the year-to-date box office down almost 9%, according to Comscore.
Domestic receipts were inevitably going to plummet this weekend because AMC and Regal, two of the biggest movie theater chains, and several other circuits like Alamo Drafthouse and Arclight, cut capacity in individual auditoriums by 50% to avoid crowding. Reducing the number of tickets sold per theater helped multiplexes comply with Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for “social distancing.” Theaters also kept room between rows and seats to ensure patrons had ample space.
So in all, low ticket sales were a combination of audiences staying home and theaters capping seating capacity.
“The impact of this unprecedented situation was apparent across many industries,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “Of course, movie theaters, amidst reduced capacity and an ever-evolving set of circumstances, had a very challenging weekend.”