Asia Box Office Crashes 88 Percent in First Quarter Amid Coronavirus

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A poster for Disney's 'Mulan' in a nearly empty Chinese shopping mall.

Months-long cinema closures throughout Asia — the biggest moviegoing region in the world — have driven earnings to unprecedented lows, with China alone seeing box office plummet 97 percent compared with last year.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has driven an astounding 88 percent crash in theatrical box office revenue in Asia-Pacific over the first three months of 2020, a new report shows.

S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates that total movie ticket sales in the region totaled just $528 million from January to March.

China, where cinemas have been closed since early January, was the largest driver of the decline, with ticket sales falling 97.4 percent, year over year. A small collection of theaters there experimented with a brief reopening mid-March, but were soon urged to shut down again. The most recent major Hollywood studio release in the Middle Kingdom was Disney's Star Wars: Episode IX – the Rise of Skywalker, way back on Dec. 20, 2019.

Asia-Pacific is responsible for a major slice of global moviegoing revenue each year, with China the world's second-biggest box office territory, Japan the third largest, and South Korea in fourth place — not to mention consistent earnings centers like Australia/New Zealand, and emerging powerhouses such as Indonesia.

The individual fate of each market varied over the first quarter, reflecting the patchwork of coronavirus containment policies rolled out across the region — but the overwhelming trend was downward.

South Korea, which executed an aggressive and largely successful containment effort in the early stages of the pandemic, refrained from ordering theaters to close nationwide, instead allowing cinema companies to decide on their own closures in the worst impacted areas of the country. The country's box office earned $139.5 million in the first quarter, down 65.3 percent year over year.

Japan saw revenues fall 46.2 percent year over year to $190.3 million. The country was late to tackle the virus epidemic, declaring a state of emergency only in mid-April. Still, the Japanese populace had long grown wary of congregating in public spaces, and box office began tapering off in the country mid-February.

In Australia, cinemas were forced to close mid-March and box office contracted 31.5 percent to $110.3 million in the first quarter.

Box office revenue in North America suffered a 25 percent year-over-year decline — or a deficit of $600 million — in the first quarter. U.S. cinemas began closing only in late March, however, and even deeper declines are expected to show up in second-quarter earnings.