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

L.A. Theater March 19, 2020
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A shuttered movie theater in Los Angeles on March 19, 2020. 

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.