China's Cinemas Expected to Reopen in June, Beijing Official Says

Getty Images
A Wanda cinema in China

Movie theaters in China, the world's second-biggest film market, have been closed since late January, weeks before they shut down in North America. Lost box office revenue is estimated to already total $4.2 billion, Chinese government officials say.

The head of China's Film Bureau has offered a glimmer of hope for the country's battered movie business.

A press conference was held in central Beijing Wednesday to announce that on April 30 China's capital city will be lowering its state of emergency from the highest level. The announcement was made by Bei Chen, deputy secretary general of the Beijing municipal government.

Chen added that museums and indoor entertainment venues — including movie theaters — are expected to get the official green light to reopen in early June, following the conclusion of China's National People's Congress in May. The statement represents the first official hint of how and when China's vast network of 70,000 movie screens — the most of any country in the world — could be rebooted.

The Beijing central government revealed earlier on Wednesday that the People's Congress, the country's biggest annual political meeting, would take place in May following a two-month delay. The announcement was widely interpreted as Beijing's clearest signal yet that it believes the novel coronavirus outbreak to be firmly under control within the country's borders.

Movie theaters across the Middle Kingdom have been closed since late January, when the coronavirus epidemic became a national — and soon, global — emergency.

Wang Xiaohui, chief of China's Film Bureau and deputy director of the Communist Party's propaganda department, said Wednesday that the total suspension of the theatrical film business is estimated to have resulted in RMB 30 billion ($4.2 billion) in lost ticket revenue. 

Wang added that the government would "offer a series of support policies for the film industry" and that "each regional film bureau will introduce their own support policies as well." No details were mentioned on what the support mechanisms would entail.

Scores of film companies large and small already have gone bankrupt. A state-run news source said earlier this month that more than 5,000 Chinese film and TV companies had canceled or revoked their business registrations this year already — nearly twice the total for the entirety of 2019.

Wang offered one other piece of good news for exhibitors, saying that the government will "control theatrical film windowing from now on," which suggests that regulators may introduce rules preventing films produced for the big screen from jumping to streaming services early — or whenever producers deem it financially advantageous.

Early in China's theater shutdown, growing studio Huanxi Media inked a rich deal to release its comedy tentpole Lost in Russia over TikTok owner ByteDance's video platforms instead of waiting for theaters to reopen. The partnership, which involved a nearly $100 million payout to Huanxi, won praise in the industry for its speed and audacity but also sparked outrange from the owners and operators of China's largest theater chains.