Imax Delays Chinese New Year Movie Releases Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

IMAX China - H 2015
Corbis

IMAX China - H 2015

"The safety of Chinese audiences is our top priority," Imax said of supporting the industry decision to postpone the release of films on its giant screens.

Imax on Thursday confirmed it supports the decision of studios and distributors in China to delay the release of their Lunar New Year movies on its giant screens amid a virus outbreak.

"The safety of Chinese audiences is our top priority. Imax supports the decision to postpone the release of the Chinese New Year film slate and believes it to be the best course of action in an unfortunate situation," the giant screen exhibitor said in a statement.

China's biggest movies of 2020, which were scheduled to release Saturday, the first day of the Chinese New Year, have been preemptively pulled from cinemas in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has plunged the country into crisis. 

Chinese New Year is the biggest blockbuster period in the world by far, and the coming week was expected to generate as much as $1 billion in ticket sales revenue.

Imax added its Chinese New Year slate will eventually be released as it pointed to strong box office projections and presale figures heading into this weekend.

"We have every expectation that these films will be released in 2020 and that audience demand for these releases will remain high. Our thoughts are with the Chinese people, for whom we wish a swift resolution to this issue and a safe and healthy Chinese New Year," Imax added.

Wall Street watchers were quick to measure the potential hit Imax faces from delaying its Chinese New Year movie slate. Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners, said the impact on Imax could be "meaningful."

"The Chinese New Year festival has been a major benefit to Imax in each of the last two years. We estimate box office revenue from Imax screens in 2018 and 2019 during the holiday weeks was roughly $26 million and $50 million, respectively. Last year's contributions from Chinese New Year represented a little less than half of the $106 million garnered by Imax in China for all of 1Q19," Handler said in a research note.

Among the big-budget movies that had been set for release Saturday were Wanda's comedy action sequel Detective Chinatown 3, Huanxi Media's comedy tentpole Lost in Russia and sports epic Leap, Dante Lam's action vehicle The Rescue, and family animation Boonie Bears: The Wild Life, among several others.

Local regulators have always blocked Hollywood films from releasing during the festival period to give home-team studios an uncontested run at the box office.

Beijing earlier took the unprecedented step of announcing a lockdown on the entire city of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, followed by two additional large cities also being put on mandatory lockdown.