Cinemas in China Face New Wave of Closures

By Patrick von Sychowski | March 16, 2022 7:36 am PDT
Uncharted China Poster

Cinemas across several parts of China have closed as part of regional lockdowns in response to outbreaks of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. This comes after cinemas in China enjoyed a long period of remaining open following the first lockdown two years ago. China’s Zero Covid policy means that the country clamps down on any outbreak, rather than a policy of learning to live with Covid-19 following mass vaccination, which the West has adopted. This together with a post-holiday slump has dampened the mood in what had become the world’s largest cinema market during the pandemic.

It is reported that as of 14 March a total of 3,690 cinemas in China were ‘partly suspended’. These accounted for 29.77% of China’s total, with a box office share of 29.42%. Out of these, cinemas in 40 cities across the country were ‘completely suspended’, with a market share of 15.7%. The news comes as Chinese cinemas face a slump after the Spring Festival, with total takings for March just CNY 500 million (USD $78.7 million), with several local and Hollywood films, such as “Death on the Nile” and “Uncharted”, under performing.

It has also been reported that the daily box office of over 10,000 cinemas was just CNY 300 (USD $47.25) with total daily of box office of less than CNY 20 million (USD $3.15 million). The former is not enough to even cover electricity and water bills for individual cinemas. Director Zhu Yuqing is quotred as saying that, “the current market downturn is not only a manifestation of the aftermath of the Spring Festival, but also a reflection of the market downturn this year.” In March the box-office revenue of the Chinese film market was just CNY 380 million (USD $59.8 million).

There had been hopes that the end of the black-out period when no foreign (i.e. Hollywood) films were allowed would help lift the box-office. Upcoming releases included “The Batman”, “Hotel Transylvania 4” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”. However, the first major release, Sony Picture’s “Uncharted”, under-performed on its opening days. The film had a taking of just CNY 12.36 million yuan (USD $1.95 million), with an attendance rate of 2.5%, on its opening day of Monday 14 March. The following day, on March 15, the box-office dropped to CNY 7.79 million (USD $1.23 million), with an attendance rate of 1.7%. Forecasts for “The Batman” have been revised down from USD $25 million to $30 million to USD $15 million to $20 million.

Several major cities and regions, including Shenzhen, are under complete lockdown as part of the effort to suppress outbreaks of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. A dire warning comes from Hong King SAR, which has seen infections and death reach record levels as the city battles a fifth wave. Cinemas are closed in Hong Kong and hospitals are over-flowing, with pictures of hospital patients sharing rooms with body bags of deceased victims. China’s stock morket has been negatively impacted by these developments, as well as the war in Ukraine, with media and entertainment stocks being particularly hit. The Hang Send Index has lost a quarter of its value in just four weeks.

Patrick von Sychowski
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