Omicron has Hollywood in Standby and Watch – The Hollywood Reporter

Just as the global film industry thought it was about to come out of the pandemic, omicron could pull them back.

On November 26, the World Health Organization, led by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the risk posed by the new, heavily mutated variant of COVID-19, was first detected in the south. Africa, is “very high”. Days later, more than 40 countries, including the US, UK, European Union and Australia imposed travel restrictions from South African countries including South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This variant has been detected in several countries, including the UK, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, and Israel.

The news could not have come at a worse time for the global film industry, which, after two years of shutdowns, movie theater closures and box office collapse, has finally begun to recover. Rob Mitchell, a box office analyst at London-based Gower Street, said: “It’s unfortunate that omicron has been a hit now that October is the first month we’ve been extremely close to average box office. before the pandemic. Strong performance of There’s no time to die, Sand dunes and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, coupled with a resurgent Chinese theatrical market, means that global box office receipts for October were down just 7% from the three-year average for the month of 2017 to 2019.

The scary thing is that omicron’s new series of titles will terrify viewers, giving them one more reason to stay at home. Currently, Hollywood studios are in a state of waiting to see how much protection the current vaccine offers against the new variant before making any decisions regarding their release schedule. If omicrons prove to be both virulent and resistant to vaccines, the impact could be felt across the industry, but the theater and theatrical businesses are likely to take the lead.

“Manufacturers have been through the first three waves of COVID and know what to do to keep things moving,” noted one veteran manufacturer, pointing to safety protocols being implemented. announced at the start of the pandemic that have largely allowed studios and independent companies to continue making movies even this fall due to infections caused by the delta variant.

“Rapid testing is widely available, so manufacturing facilities can test everyone every day, making transmission unlikely. I really don’t see a big impact in the near term,” noted Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. “But if it turns out that omicrons are more dangerous than we thought and we are more defenseless, then it will become a problem.”

A bigger, and immediate problem, is the holiday releases. This year, the box office hopes rest on one movie: Sony’s Tom Holland Starring Spider-Man: There’s no way home, will launch in mid-December. The tent “could launch with the biggest opening of the year, [and] MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler noted. “This movie will then be The King’s Man, Matrix Recovery and Sing 2, all of which must have the right appeal. Hollywood can’t afford a major hiatus at this point given the relatively large budgets these films make.”

With Sony’s marketing campaign in full swing, there’s still no sign that the studio has any plans to change direction. Spidermanreleased because of omicrons. A top executive from a rival studio said: “I certainly didn’t mean like, ‘Oh, that old hat, we’ve got it’. “I’ve got all my fingers and toes through that [omicron] does not mean another series of outages. ”

But the situation outside the US could force studios to step in. In conditions that are disturbingly similar to this time last year, countries across Europe are imposing new lockdowns and restrictions in an attempt to stem this fourth wave of infections (mostly contagion). all related to the delta variant).

Austria’s nationwide shutdown begins November 22, with cinemas, restaurants and other public places closed. On November 24, the Slovak government declared a state of emergency and a nationwide curfew. On November 28, the Netherlands imposed a curfew from 5pm to 5am for most businesses, including theatres. Germany, Italy, France and Spain are all considering similar measures. A day later, South Korea, which is grappling with a similar spike in infections, said it was shelving plans to further relax COVID-19 restrictions due to rising hospitalization rates and concerns about omicrons. . South Korea lifted restrictions on opening hours for movie theaters in early November, but movie theaters are still struggling with consumer restrictions on returning to public venues. Leading multimedia cinema chains CJ CGV and Lotte Cinema have been rolling out “vaccination ticket” theaters for fully vaccinated audiences, where customers can sit side by side and eat snacks discounted rates during screenings (otherwise, social segregation rules will continue to apply, limiting occupancy).

“Each studio can have its own international calculus: How many countries can we lose and still be able to release in theaters?” Mitchell said. “Losing Austria and the Netherlands, that’s probably okay. But if you add Germany, France, maybe England, the calculation may change”.

The worst-case scenario would be a fall 2020 rerun, when theaters close and box office declines in some territories prompt studios to postpone or cancel upcoming films, causing a negative feedback loop. Mitchell points to MGM’s decision in October 2020 to delay the issuance of the Bonds, which have already been scrapped There’s no time to die by another year. The move directly resulted in the closure of exhibitor Cineworld – saying that without such tents the cinema business was “unlivable” – and caused a series of delays. different for major releases, including Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Not detected yet, Disney’s Cruella and Universal’s Finch, starring Tom Hanks, the series finally landed on Apple TV+.

As it has been throughout the pandemic, the Chinese market may play an overwhelming role in the studios’ calculus. The fact that Keanu Reeves is in the lead Matrix Recovery and Spider-Man: There’s no way home both have already been approved for a Chinese release that could tilt in favor of a scheduled rollout, with a staggered or deferred bow, to smaller territories.

Even if cinemas avoid the worst-case scenario, hopes of October’s box office jump should dwindle through the end of the year. Gower estimates the global box office, as of November 27, at about $18.4 billion, 65% higher than this figure at this time last year but 51% lower than the average. pre-pandemic average for three years (from 2017 to 2019). Theater closures in some territories and concerns about further closures prompted Gower to revise his year-end box office forecast down from $21.6 billion (mid-October estimate). down to $21 billion. 2019 box office revenue, before the pandemic? $42.5 billion.

Alex Ritman and Patrick Brzeski contributed reporting.

A version of this story first appeared in the December 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.

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