Thomas reports on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the International cinema market
In the discussion of delaying American blockbusters, we always talk about the situation in the United States of America but there is something the big studios have forgotten – international exhibitors. These are essential players that cannot be put aside anymore, because more than half of the box office for all of the big movies are done outside the USA. So international exhibitors need to be part of the conversation now more than ever, the money that they bring to the big US studios is essential. Let’s take for example Avengers Endgame and Infinity War, international box office respectively accounted for 69.3% and 66.9% of their total box office, which represents $1,939,427,564 and $1,369,544,272. Do you realize all the money this represents for the studios?
Recently, Variety published a piece about global exhibitors being forgotten when talking about delaying blockbusters and it definitely sparked dialog. So I want to continue talking about that because the big question here is can international cinemas survive this pandemic? European cinemas started to re-open mid-June as new cases were slowing down. Now, some cities are going back on lockdown like in Spain thus cinemas are closing again but for the most part, (except the United Kingdom) cinemas are re-opened in Europe. In Asia, Japan has also re-opened along with China, South Korea. Big international markets are now opened.
However, something is missing there – the US blockbusters of the Summer, Tenet, and Mulan. As the owner of my local cinema said cinemas depend on these blockbusters. Like Variety pointed out, “the market share of U.S. pics skyrockets to at least 70% during the season” in France, which is the biggest country in Europe in terms of people going to the cinemas. The problem both Tenet and Mulan were delayed from July to the end of August then Tenet was once again delayed to an unknown date (which will be announced imminently according to Warner Bros). Leaving international exhibitors alone to face the Summer.
To fill that void, cinemas have done retrospectives, mostly of Christopher Nolan movies to build-up to the release of Tenet, which is now compromised but also there were some new smaller movies from the US and Europe. The problem is it doesn’t work enough. In my local cinema for each of the Nolan movies, we were between ten to fifteen people at the screening for The Dark Knight Trilogy and even less for Inception (6 people) as for the new movie Irresistible, we were 5 people. These were screened in a dubbed version, which always features fewer people than in French dubbed. But even in the French dubbed, it didn’t bring more people. People who are currently going to the cinemas are avid cinema lovers. The main audience is generally not there. They are waiting for something new to discover and not rewatch something they had already seen before. That’s because of the situation we are in, the COVID-19 is still there and people can be anxious about it so they are only willing to go back to the cinema in a big number for new blockbusters.
Families returned to the cinemas in France at the re-opening on June 22 for Onward, which had its theatrical run cut short when cinemas closed in March, the movie was in the top 3 of the box office that week but that’s about it for families except for a bit for Scoob! which got a limited theatrical release in Europe. Re-releases are only a solution in the short term, this doesn’t bring enough money for the cinemas to survive long enough. Studios have other revenues, some even have streaming services so they have cash liquidity to pay their bills, to pay their employees but cinemas don’t, the only revenues they have come from moviegoers coming to the cinemas. The revenues they need come from the blockbusters and the audience has an appetite for new blockbusters.
Without revenues, like any other business, they cannot survive. If the big US studios keep delaying their blockbusters, international cinemas are facing a troubling catastrophe because they cannot stay afloat indefinitely without big new movies to offer to the audience. So how long can cinemas survive without a new major release? The big cinema chains are worried so that gives you an idea of how bad the situation will be if delays keep happening. If big cinema chains are worried, then you can easily imagine in which situation small independent cinemas are. It also definitely shines a light on how weak European studios are as they do not have movies that can turn into blockbusters bringing back enough revenues for the cinemas. That is a different story for another time.
What’s holding the big US studios to release their tentpoles is the uncontrollable COVID-19 situations in the US. And let’s be honest, it is not going to get better anytime soon when you see that daily cases are by the thousands and deaths are going up as well. Some states are getting better but the big states are not, and they probably won’t be until a few months if we stay optimistic. If studios keep delaying their tentpoles until 2021, there may not be enough cinemas left internationally to bring them the huge numbers that there were used to. They need the revenues from the international box office to have their blockbusters to be profitable.
Big US studios need to take an essential decision soon. How long can they delay their movies until it’s too late for European cinemas to survive this crisis? Waiting until 2021 is not an option anymore. The only viable option that arises is to release their blockbusters internationally (and in the US states that are already re-opened). This raises the problem of piracy as US moviegoers also want to see these movies but that is a risk to take if US studios want to see the survival of cinemas. This is a worldwide pandemic thus it would feel normal that US studios coordinate their releases with international exhibitors to help their business partners. Releasing blockbusters internationally before releasing them in the US has been something that was done before and it worked just fine. A recent example is How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which was released in the US a month or so later after all major international markets. So it can be done again and it definitely makes sense to do it now more than ever as it is to ensure the survival of international cinemas!
According to the latest rumors, Warner Bros. may have understood that as they are thinking of releasing Tenet first internationally on August 26th and in the US on Labor Day (September 7th). Warner Bros’ statement concerning Tenet is also giving hope for them to take the right decision – “We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that.” Now, we have to wait and see how it goes and if Warner Bros. really does an international release first. Disney’s plans are also unknown at the moment, but we have to hope they will keep the August release date for Mulan internationally. These are difficult times but there can be light at the end of the tunnel for international cinemas and that is only is US studios work with them.
The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.
Thomas Storai is the Collectables Editor for The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and a wide variety of movies. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasStorai where he uses the force frequently!