Paramount Delays 'Sonic the Hedgehog' China Release Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America
'Sonic the Hedgehog'

The studio has postponed Friday's scheduled release as the nation's movie theaters have been shuttered.

Paramount Pictures' Sonic the Hedgehog may have zoomed his way to the top of the North American box office two weekends in a row, but the spiky blue video game hero won't be heading to China in the near future amid an outbreak of the Coronavirus. 

The film was initially scheduled to be released in China on Friday, but its release has been postponed. 

"Due to the current coronavirus situation, the China release date of the film Sonic the Hedgehog will be postponed, and we will re-announce the new release date at a later time. Sonic will only be slowing down his pace temporarily, and we look forward to bringing him zooming onto the big screen in China once it is appropriate to do so," the studio said Monday in a statement.

"As the whole country and world unite together to fight the outbreak of coronavirus, we would like to express our gratitude and respect to all the medical staff, the rescue personnel, and people in service who provide us with much-needed assistance and support during this time," it added.

China's movie theaters began shutting their doors en masse around Jan. 24, on the eve of Chinese New Year, which typically makes for the most lucrative week of moviegoing anywhere in the world. Ticket revenue in China in the three weeks following the shutdown totaled just $3.9 million, compared to $1.52 billion during the same stretch last year. Local film players now believe drastic government action could be necessary to save many companies.

Seven big-budget Lunar New Year tentpoles — usually China's most expensive but lucrative productions of the year — were pulled from release shortly before cinemas shut down in January, and it's unclear how regulators will go about rescheduling the large backlog of unreleased movies once theaters reopen. High-profile U.S. films including Universal's Dolittle, Searchlight's Jojo Rabbit and Sam Mendes' 1917 all saw their February releases scrapped and are now awaiting rescheduling.

China is a lucrative and key part of a film's worldwide release, and the global box office may take a $1 billion-plus hit as the world's second-biggest market shutters 70,000 screens while grappling to contain the outbreak.

Sonic has been a welcome hit for Paramount after a surprise $70 million opening at the North American box office over Presidents Day weekend, the biggest debut for the studio in 18 months, since Mission: Impossible - Fallout in summer 2018. The family film, a live-action and CGI hybrid starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden and Ben Schwartz, has grossed $106 million domestically and over $200 million worldwide since its Feb. 14 release. It is a much-needed win for Paramount, which has endured a dismal run in the past year, led by big-budget misses such as Gemini Man and Terminator: Dark Fate in late 2019 (both films were produced and co-financed by partner Skydance).

Concerns are also growing as the virus spreads. On Monday, Paramount said that a three-week shoot for the upcoming Mission: Impossible film has stopped production in Venice due to a Coronavirus outbreak in Italy with more than 150 confirmed cases.