Domestic Box Office Off $600 Million Year-Over-Year So Far Amid Virus Crisis

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The vast majority of cinemas in North America have been closed for business since March 20.

Box office revenue in North America suffered a steep 25 percent year-over-year decline — or a deficit of $600 million — in the first quarter of 2020 amid the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's no surprise that most of the damage was inflicted in March as cases of COVID-19 spread across the U.S. and Canada. By March 19, virtually all cinemas in both countries were closed, save for a smattering of indie cinemas and drive-ins.

Domestic ticket sales turned in a combined $1.81 billion from Jan. 1 through March 19, the day when Comscore stopped reporting theater grosses. That compares to $2.41 billion for the first full three months of 2019, according to Comscore.

In March of this year, revenue came in at a mere $255.7 million as new product underwhelmed at the beginning of the month before moviegoing started slowing and then came to a standstill. That compares to $612.8 million for the March 1-19 stretch last year, making for a decline of 58 percent. When counting all of March 2019 ($967.8 million), the year-over-year dip for the month was 74 percent.

No one is sure when theaters will reopen —  earlier this week, AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron suggested mid-June — or how long it will take for traffic to resume in earnest once that happens.

Hollywood studios have delayed many of their releases through June and into July — more changes are expected — creating a backlog of product that is likely to impact the rest of the 2020 calendar as well as next year.

This year's box office began on a high note. January revenue clocked in at $912 million — led by Sony's breakout hit Bad Boys for Life — an uptick of 12 percent over January 2019. February ($644.8 million) also saw gains over the previous year, led by Paramount's Sonic the Hedgehog.

In 2019, box office revenue in North America was $11.4 billion, a bit behind the all-time high of $11.9 billion in 2018. Globally, a new record was achieved with $42.2 billion.

It's too early to say how big of a hit the 2020 worldwide box office will take because of the pandemic, but Hollywood studios and distressed theater owners are already facing global losses of $7 billion. That number could grow to as high as $15 billion to $17 billion if cinemas aren't reopened by the end of May.

In China — the country's second-largest market moviegoing market behind North America — theaters have largely remained shuttered since the end of January, in addition to closures or empty cinemas in a raft of other major territories.