The global economic damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. box office as “Onward” has suffered the worst second weekend total drop in the 25-year history of Disney’s Pixar animation unit. The animated fantasy film has grossed just $10.5 million this weekend, a 74% drop from its $40 million opening.
That leaves “Onward” with a 10-day domestic total of $60.8 million and slim chances of even pushing that total to $100 million. Mid-March is usually a time when families take their kids out to the movies while they are on spring break, but many of those families are staying home as local and state governments in areas hardest hit by COVID-19 are applying increasingly stringent measures to contain the disease’s spread.
Overall, weekend numbers are set to be the lowest for the domestic box office in at least 20 years, and it’s likely to get worse next weekend as Paramount has removed “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was projected for at least a $60 million opening, from its March 20 release date while the virus is expected to spread. How bad that spread is will depend on whether the public follows calls for social distancing and stays home to reduce the possibility of community infection.
As the U.S. nears 3,000 confirmed cases of the virus, theaters in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are beginning to close; and lockdowns in European countries like Italy, France, Spain, Norway and Denmark have forced industry-wide shutdowns of cinemas there. Similar forced closures of theaters could happen in the U.S., particularly along the West Coast and in the Northeast if the virus isn’t contained. In the meantime, other theaters in those states as well as those on the West Coast are reducing capacity in their auditoriums to provide space between moviegoers.
COVID-19 has also impacted the box office fortunes of this weekend’s new releases. Lionsgate’s faith-based drama “I Still Believe,” the first production from Jon and Andrew Erwin’s new studio Kingdom Story Company, is expected to earn an opening weekend of $9.5 million from 3,250 screens. Strongest turnout for the film came from faith-based hot spots in the South and Midwest, where many states in those regions have yet to see widespread community spread of the virus.
It’s a glass-half-full result for Lionsgate and Kingdom. While the film’s estimates are below the $10-12 million that Lionsgate had projected and the $17.1 million opening earned by the Erwins’ 2018 breakthrough hit “I Can Only Imagine,” it is consistent with openings for the faith-based genre and is on track to turn a profit given the film’s reported $4 million production budget before marketing costs.
The same is less likely to be said for Sony’s “Bloodshot,” which is estimated for a $9.3 million opening from 2,861 screens. The R-rated Vin Diesel film is unlikely to make back its reported $45 million budget between overseas theater closures and tepid reception. The film received a 31% score on Rotten Tomatoes and a B from audiences on CinemaScore.
The final new release, Universal/Blumhouse’s “The Hunt,” is being beaten this weekend by fellow studio release “The Invisible Man,” which made $6 million in its third weekend compared to a $5.3 million opening for “The Hunt.” Even in a normal market, “The Hunt” was going to be a tough sell with its story about affluent liberals hunting working-class conservatives for sport. The film had mixed reviews with 53% on Rotten Tomatoes while audiences gave the film a C+ on CinemaScore.
The virus has also hit the indie box office as Focus Features’ “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” only grossed an estimated $18,404 and a $4,601 per screen average from its four-screen release despite rave reviews from the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals and a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score. Many indie films rely on platform releases in Los Angeles and New York to build word of mouth before gradual expansion into other major cities and eventually nationwide, and that option is now all but gone as moviegoers are encouraged to stay home to prevent spread of the virus.