How the coronavirus outbreak is roiling the film and entertainment industries

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, which began in China in December, has had sweeping effects in the public health, business, and travel sectors, among others. And while the repercussions for the entertainment industry may seem to pale in comparison to the clear threat the virus poses to human life, the ripple effects do have implications for people around the world who make a living producing and distributing movies, music, and more.

The immense and lucrative Chinese film industry was almost immediately hit as movie theaters across the country were closed and major releases were delayed. But Hollywood soon began to feel the effects too, and as time passes, the impact of the coronavirus on the global film and entertainment industries will certainly grow.

Consequences of the outbreak on these industries could range from lowered attendance at film festivals and disruptions in film distribution to delayed or canceled movie releases and concert dates to curtailed on-location film shoots. Financial ramifications will likely be felt by studios, filmmakers, theater owners, and more for months, or even years.

Here’s a timeline of developments and responses to the outbreak in the entertainment industry so far. Most recently, the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, was canceled in response to health concerns. This followed major entertainment companies — including Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and WarnerMedia — announcing their withdrawals from the citywide event, which was scheduled to begin March 13.

January 22: Major film releases canceled in China

The biggest films of China’s year are usually scheduled to release during the Lunar New Year holiday, but mounting fears of the coronavirus and public reticence to be in crowded spaces caused distributors to voluntarily cancel or postpone several film releases.

Huanxi, distributor of the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Russia, announced that the film would premiere online for free. Promotional materials encouraged audiences to “stay safely at home and watch Lost in Russia with your mom.”

January 23: Chinese theaters and other attractions close during Lunar New Year, causing huge losses in revenue

Hoping to contain the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government decided to temporarily shut down movie theaters throughout the country until further notice. A film production shutdown soon followed.

Other closed cultural attractions and institutions include Tiananmen Square’s National Museum of China, the Forbidden City, and a section of the Great Wall of China located near Beijing.

With movie theaters shuttered and film production paused, the Chinese film industry — which had hoped to become a major force in global cinema to rival Hollywood — remains crippled. Loss of revenue over the Lunar New Year holiday, during which movie theaters typically see an uptick in ticket sales, amounted to a staggering $1 billion, according to analysts.

January 25: The Shanghai Disneyland theme park closes

Disney shut down its Shanghai Disneyland park over fears of the coronavirus. The park is a major revenue generator, with 11.8 million guests in 2018, 50 percent from outside the Shanghai region, and an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue and $50 million in operating profit.

January 26: The Hong Kong Disneyland theme park closes

A day after Shanghai Disneyland’s shut down, Hong Kong Disneyland closed. The closures of the two parks came amid the Lunar New Year holiday, which typically includes travel and leisure activities that generate revenue for the company.

January 31: A second Chinese film premieres online

Enter the Fat Dragon becomes the second major Chinese film to premiere online, as theaters are shut down by order of the government.

Liu Yifei in traditional dress in Disney’s 2020 Mulan.

Liu Yifei, star of Disney’s Mulan, which is facing an indefinitely delayed release.
Walt Disney Pictures

February 4: Mulan’s Chinese release date is delayed indefinitely

Disney’s live-action version of Mulan was set for worldwide release on March 27, but on February 4 Disney’s (now-outgoing) CEO Bob Iger confirmed to CNBC that the film was unlikely to be released in China that day, since theaters remain closed by order of the government. The movie, which is set in China, stars Chinese American actress Liu Yifei, and features Chinese superstars like Gong Li, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen among its cast, was expected to rake in revenue at the Chinese box office. It’s unclear when the film will be released in China.

Other high-profile American releases, such as Oscar Best Picture nominees Jojo Rabbit and 1917, also saw their planned Chinese February release dates canceled.

February 16: MGM cancels the Chinese premiere of No Time to Die

MGM announced that it would cancel the Chinese premiere and publicity tour planned for the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, which was scheduled for April.

February 21: Jia Zhangke says from Berlin that he’s delaying production on his next film indefinitely

Famed Chinese director Jia Zhangke (Ash Is Purest White, A Touch of Sin) told Indiewire that production on his new film, which was slated to begin in April, was delayed indefinitely.

Jia spoke with Indiewire at the Berlin Film Festival, where his documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue was premiering. But he said that before he left he’d feared his flight to Berlin would be canceled, and that some of his collaborators chose not to make the trip. Regarding his next film, he said:

For some film companies and studios involved in pre-production, a lot of costs are going down the drain, and those that already started production have to be somehow cut short or suspended. Some of them are already in the process of distributing films and they’ve paid for a lot of promotion and PR costs. The economy is now taking a huge hit, and I think the investment side will be hugely impacted as well.”

Meanwhile, Chinese distributors were largely absent at the Berlin Film Festival, one of the major events in world cinema. European Film Market Director Matthijs Wouter Knol told the Hollywood reporter that “a Chinese delegation of companies that was planning to attend EFM has seen no other option than to cancel their attendance due to the difficulties in obtaining visas related to the current health situation in China.”

February 26: Mission: Impossible VII shuts down production in Venice, while northern Italian cultural sites close

A coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, in particular Venice, has had numerous cultural implications.

On February 26, Paramount Pictures announced that the seventh installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, starring Tom Cruise, halted a planned three-week shoot in Venice.

“Out of an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our cast and crew, and efforts of the local Venetian government to halt public gatherings in response to the threat of coronavirus, we are altering the production plan for our three-week shoot in Venice, the scheduled first leg of an extensive production for Mission: Impossible 7,” a Paramount spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter. “During this hiatus we want to be mindful of the concerns of the crew and are allowing them to return home until production starts. We will continue to monitor this situation, and work alongside health and government officials as it evolves.”

Additionally, a number of major museums in Venice, Milan, Turin, and other northern Italian cities were closed as part of the government’s aggressive attempt to contain the virus, and annual Carnivale celebrations were halted early.

Venetians Celebrate The End Of Carnival

Carnivale revelers dress like doctors during Venice’s medieval plague. Carnivale ended early, due to a coronavirus outbreak in Venice, by order of the government.
Giacomo Cosua/NurPhoto via Getty Images

February 24: Indefinite delay announced for Sonic the Hedgehog’s Chinese release

On February 24, Paramount Pictures announced that it would delay the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in China, with a new release date to be determined.

February 26: Chinese exhibitors pull out of CinemaCon

A delegation of 24 movie theater owners in China decided not to attend CinemaCon, the annual global convention of film exhibitors scheduled to be held in Las Vegas from March 30 to April 2. Other countries hit by the coronavirus, including Italy and Korea, said they still plan to attend.

February 27: Hollywood’s biggest studios and actors’ union issue statements

The Motion Picture Association — the Hollywood industry group composed of Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. — told Deadline that it is “closely monitoring reports from public health officials about the coronavirus and protective measures to limit its impact.”

Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents Hollywood’s actors, issued a statement, saying that it will “work with employers in our industry as needed to help ensure the safety of our members.” Deadline reported that about 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members are currently working around the world.

February 28: K-pop megastars BTS cancel concert series in Seoul

The hugely popular K-pop group BTS canceled a series of planned concerts in Seoul, scheduled for April 11 and 12 and April 18 and 19 at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. The group’s management agency said the decision was made due to the impossibility of predicting the scale of the outbreak in South Korea come April and cited the health and safety of the musicians themselves, workers, and concertgoers. Two hundred thousand fans were expected to attend.

Days earlier, BTS had asked fans to avoid a series of TV appearances scheduled to promote their newest album, Map Of The Soul: 7, which had originally been planned to include studio audiences.

The group also appealed to fans via a streamed press conference. “Health is always on our minds these days, and our messages of facing your inner self and loving yourself are ultimately only possible when you’re healthy, especially since it is very risky outside these days,” one of the singers, Jimin, said. ”I hope you take care of yourself.”

The entire Korean entertainment sector has been affected by the outbreak, and K-pop has been hit particularly hard, with groups including GOT7, WINNER, Sechs Kies, (G) I-DLE, and others canceling scheduled tour dates. Variety reported that box office revenue in South Korea was down 30 to 40 percent in January 2020 compared to previous years.

As of mid-February, South Korea had 28 recorded cases of coronavirus and no fatalities. But by the end of the month — partly due to a large church in Daegu — the number had grown to 1,766 reported cases and 13 fatalities, the New York Times reported on February 27.

February 28: The Cannes Film Festival makes a statement regarding the upcoming festival

The Cannes Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film festival in the world, issued a statement after the first case of coronavirus in nearby Nice, France, was confirmed by the city’s mayor. (Cannes is a seaside resort town located in the French Riviera, about 30 km from Nice.) The 2020 festival is slated to take place May 12 through 23, and draws thousands of industries and press from around the globe each year.

“As of today, it is still premature to express assumptions on an event scheduled in two months and a half,” a spokesperson for the festival told Variety. “In due course and depending on the occurrences, the Festival de Cannes will naturally take all the necessary measures, aiming at ensuring the protection of all attendees and preserving their health during the event in Cannes, under the responsibility of public authorities, in particular the State and the City of Cannes.”

February 28: CBS announces The Amazing Race will suspend production

CBS’s reality show The Amazing Race had filmed only three episodes of its 33rd season, located in the UK, when the network announced that the show would be suspending production until further notice, “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Due to increased concerns and uncertainty regarding the coronavirus around the world, CBS and the producers of The Amazing Race have taken the precautionary measure of temporarily suspending production on the 33rd season of the series,” the network said in a statement. “All contestants and production staff are in the process of returning home.”

March 4: The worldwide release date for No Time to Die is pushed back to November 25

The upcoming James Bond movie No Time to Die had been originally slated for worldwide release in early April. Though the film’s Chinese premiere and publicity had been delayed on February 16, the studio announced on March 4 that the film’s release would be delayed worldwide until November 25.

According to the Hollywood Reporter and the film’s official Twitter account, the decision was made by the film’s producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. It’s the first Hollywood tentpole to make a major shift to its release plans because of concerns over the virus.

March 3-5: Major entertainment companies drop out of the South by Southwest film festival

On March 4, both Netflix and Apple followed fellow streaming company Amazon in pulling their films and planned talent appearances out of South by Southwest (SXSW) — the Austin, Texas–based festival/conference that attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. A day later, WarnerMedia followed suit. They joined a number of high-profile companies that had previously withdrawn from the festival, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Mashable, and Intel.

Netflix had planned to screen five films (Uncorked, A Secret Love, L.A. Originals, Mucho Mucho Amor, and Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics). It canceled all of those screenings, as well as a panel with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and actor and producer Rashida Jones on their upcoming comedy series for the streaming network, #BlackExcellence.

Apple had planned to premiere three AppleTV+ originals: Spike Jonze’s documentary Beastie Boys Story, an animated musical series called Central Park, and a docuseries called Homes. It also was set to screen the documentary Boys State, which it acquired at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and to host a panel on Little America with the series’ creators Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

Amazon canceled screenings and panels scheduled to promote its series Upload and the sci-fi drama Tales of the Loop. WarnerMedia announced via Twitter that it was also canceling “activations” planned for the festival.

March 6: Emerald City Comic Con is postponed as Washington coronavirus cases continue

The organizers of Emerald City Comic Con, the largest convention of its kind in Seattle, Washington, announced on March 6 that it will postpone the event until sometime this summer. The event was to run March 12-16.

“We did everything that we could to run the event as planned, but ultimately, we are following the guidance of the local public health officials indicating that conventions should now be postponed,” convention organizers Reedpop said in a statement published on the Emerald City Comic Con website Friday.

Washington state reportedly has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States currently. EMCC’s rescheduling, as such, seemed like only a matter of time.

March 6: SXSW is canceled

On March 6, the city of Austin declared a state of disaster, requiring the cancelation of public gatherings and events for the near future.

Most notable of those is the cancelation of South by Southwest, the annual music, film, TV, and technology festival that serves as a significant financial powerhouse for the city.

“Based on the recommendation of our public health officer and our director of public health, and after our consultation with the city manager, I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler stated at a press conference Friday afternoon. “In association with that, I’ve issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest for this year.”

The announcement comes after a week full of major companies dropping out of the well-attended event, canceling panels, premieres, and other appearances.

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