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Hollywood’s business interests in China are beginning to take a significant hit from the coronavirus crisis.
Numerous Oscar-nominated U.S. films and Hollywood tentpoles were scheduled to open in China throughout February. But with the coronavirus epidemic escalating and most of the country’s 70,000 movie theaters closed, the bulk of those release plans have been scrapped, several sources in contact with Beijing’s film regulators confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday. All of the local Chinese films that were scheduled for the first half of February also have been postponed.
Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit, which was set to debut Feb. 12, was the first U.S. title to withdraw late Monday. Sony’s Little Women, originally scheduled to release Feb. 14, and Universal’s Dolittle, set for Feb. 21, soon followed, postponing all theatrical plans for China indefinitely. Sam Mendes’ best picture contender, 1917, which had been approved for a release Feb. 21, has given up on those ambitions, sources close to China Film Group tell THR. Millennium’s Hellboy has also put off its Feb. 28 outing.
Road House’s Marriage Story, which was released in most of the world by Netflix, is still holding onto its Feb. 28 China date. A source at the film’s China distributor says the parties involved in the local release are still considering their options. Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog also was still scheduled for a Feb. 28 release as of midday Tuesday.
The cancelations are doubly bad news for the particular films affected. Universal’s Dolittle, produced for a hefty $175 million, bombed disastrously in North America, and has earned just $126 million worldwide to date. The narrow possibility of a big save from the China market, where star Robert Downey Jr. is a powerful draw thanks to Marvel movies, was beginning to look like the film’s only Hail Mary hope of escaping huge losses. Those hopes are now dashed.
As for the awards-season films like JoJo Rabbit, Little Women and 1917, the logic behind their theatrical outings in China was primarily predicated upon the glow of the Oscars, which are widely watched in the country. Past Oscars favorites like Green Book and La La Land have gotten a big box office bump in China, but they opened close to the awards ceremony to leverage that attention. Now that they’ve been pushed out of February, it’s unclear whether this year’s crop of Oscar pictures will ever hit Chinese cinemas at all.
Theme parks, including the Shanghai Disney Resort, remain closed across China, as do all major film and television production facilities. Tuesday afternoon, the special administrative region of Macau, commonly referred to as China’s Las Vegas, announced that all of its casinos would close for two weeks.
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