Coronavirus: Italian Box Office Collapses as Theaters Shut

HIDDEN AWAY  Still 1 - Berlin International Film Festival - H 2020
Courtesy of Chico De Luigi

The new regulations raise further questions about the fate of this year's Cannes Film Festival, set to kick off May 12.

The impact of restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus in Europe is already being felt at the box office as Italian cinemas shut down this weekend and ticket revenues plunged.

In a governmental decree issued Sunday, Italy shut down all cinemas, along with museums, shows and cultural sites, in a bid to halt the advance of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The move follows a quarantine measure that shut down all public life in northern Italy, the region hardest hit by COVID-19, impacting some 16 million people, or around a quarter of Italy's population.

The new measures also close down pubs, discos, bingo halls and every kind of sporting event. Professional sporting competitions, such as Italy's Serie A professional soccer league, will still be allowed inside sports facilities behind closed doors, or outdoors without the presence of the public. Activity in bars and restaurants has also been severely restricted, with patrons required to keep at least three feet distance between one another.

With more than 7,300 confirmed infections, Italy has now registered more cases of the coronavirus than any country but China. The death toll in the country rose to 366.

The Italian box office for the weekend of March 5-8 came to $503,000 (439,515 euros), a 79 percent week-on-week drop and fully 95 percent off the same weekend a year earlier. It follows a similarly steep 65 percent drop last weekend. The Italian biopic Hidden Away, which won the best actor honor for star Elio Germano at the Berlin International Film Festival last month, was the number one film with a measly $104,000 gross. Horror title The Grudge ($59,000) and Will Smith/Martin Lawrence starrer Bad Boys for Life ($45,000) were second and third, respectively.

France, the second-hardest hit nation in Europe, and fifth in the world, also tightened restrictions Sunday. French Health Minister Olivier Véran announced a ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. According to official reports, some 1,126 people have been infected in France and 19 people have died so far. Although the minister didn’t provide a timeline for the new 1,000-person ban, it is also believed to be valid until April 15, which raises concerns about television festival Series Mania, set to run March 20-29 in Lille. The new restrictions would appear to make the international series festival, which hosts around 3,000 participants, untenable.

In a twist on Monday, the French culture minister, Franck Riester, tested positive for the coronavirus, the first case within the French government, according to news agency AFP.

The new regulations also raise further questions about the fate of this year's Cannes Film Festival, set to kick off May 12. On Friday, Cannes sought to assuage concerns, insisting the festival would proceed as planned and will unveil its lineup April 16 as scheduled.

French cinemas have also been impacted by new measures aimed at combating the spread of Covid-19. Theaters in infected regions in the Morbihan (western France), the Oise (region north of Paris) and the Haut-Rhin (eastern France on the border with Germany) will remain open but at 50 percent capacity, meaning exhibitors will have to keep every second row free. Some cinemas in cities in the Morbihan region with clusters of Covid-19 cases will be shut and in the Haut-Rhin, theaters will be been limited to 50 people per screening. The restrictions apply through March 14. 

The French association of cinemas, FNCF, told The Hollywood Reporter that restrictions on mass gatherings would have a minimal impact on movie theaters as they would apply per projection room, not to the total capacity of a cinema. There is just a single French cinema —the Grand Rex cinema in Paris—with a 1,000-person plus screen. The Grand Rex, which has a capacity of 2,800, will remain open but will have to restrict its crowds to 1,000 or less in that theater for the duration of the new ban.