25 March 2022
While the cinema industry’s focus is on the upcoming Oscars and the world’s eyes are on the war in Ukraine, China is moving back into full lockdown region-by-region and city-by-city. Beijing’s “Zero Covid” policy means a clamp down on any cluster of outbreaks, even if it means putting a city of millions of people under de-facto house arrest. There is a fear that a spread of the latest Omicron variant could lead to mass hospitalisations and deaths.
Up to half of all cinemas in China have once again had to suspend operation. “This is the largest theater closure since the reopening of theater operations in July 2020,” a Chinese theatre official is quoted as saying. However, even before the latest sweeping lockdowns, Chinese cinemas were seeing declining business after the Spring Holiday, whose box office business failed to match that of last year. The arrival of Hollywood blockbusters have not helped the situation, with “Uncharted” and “The Batman” not managing to make up for the absence of major local tentpole titles.
It is hard to see how the situation will improve, with the whack-an-outbreak Zero Covid policy in place. There are signs that the Chinese leaders recognise that lockdowns will damage the larger economy long term, but there are no easy policy options; only half of China’s over-80 population has been double vaccinated So cinemas are likely to continue to suffer. This means that there is a very real likelihood that North America will retake the pole position as the world’s largest box-office territory 2022.
Far from celebrating the United States recapturing the box office crown, we should recognise that the closure of cinemas anywhere is bad for the global industry. Right now we also have next to no cinemas operating in Ukraine, exhibitors in Belarus and Central Asia are collateral casualties and the cinema business in Russia is less than half of what it was before the war. Ultimately the industry is judged by the overall global size and the latest event means that recovery is still very much a work-in-progress.
Patrick von Sychowski
, Editor, Celluloid Junkie
While we won’t know who will take home an Oscar at the 94th Annual Academy Awards for a few more days, the largest organization for those over the age of 50 in the United States has announced the winners of its annual Movies for Grownups Awards.
The love was spread around among the year’s critically acclaimed films with “Belfast” taking Best Movie for Grownups and “CODA” winning best Intergenerational Movie. Anticipating what is predicted to be this year’s Oscar winners, Jane Campion earned the Best Director prize for “Power of the Dog” while Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis received acting trophies for “King Richard.”
The organization describes Movies for Grownups as follows:
For two decades, AARP’s Movies for Grownups program has championed movies for grownups, by grownups, by advocating for the 50-plus audience, fighting industry ageism and encouraging films that resonate with mature viewers.
Concessions & Dining
The number of exhibition-related companies abandoning or curtailing their operations inside Russia continues to grow as that country’s “special military operation” (i.e. armed invasion, war, etc.) in Ukraine enters its second month. While Hollywood movie studios such as Disney, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. were quick to suspend new releases in Russia, Universal Pictures and Paramount have since followed suit.
Though it could be argued that the devaluation of the ruble makes the move symbolic for studios, it has proven a huge obstacle for Russian exhibitors whose billion dollar box office is heavily reliant on Hollywood studios. The country’s theatre operators have been relying on Bollywood releases and programming repertory titles. Beyond content, another problem for Russian cinema owners that has received little attention is the fading supply of concession options.
Though it has been far more difficult for food and beverage companies to whittle down their activity in Russia, given the manufacturing capabilities they spent three decades building, it appears most cinema suppliers have reduced their activity to only humanitarian needs. Companies such as PepsiCo and Nestlé not only make soda and chocolate snacks, they also provide everything from water to baby formula to milk. Not exactly concession-stand friendly fare. Coca-Cola, a movie theatre staple, suspended Russian operations weeks ago and they have recently been joined by candy makers Mondelez and Mars. The confectioners have reduced their output solely to humanitarian offerings and announced a halt to all future investment in Russia.
That the COVID pandemic allowed studios to shrink theatrical release windows is no longer breaking news but rather historic fact. Though if the pandemic allowed for studios to rush their releases into the home entertainment market, it is also providing us with a like-for-like comparison of the financial implications of such a distribution strategy.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” opened to USD $587 million worldwide back in December and has powered past USD $1.8 billion after three months of exclusive theatrical release. “The Batman,” another superhero blockbuster, hit multiplexes at the beginning of March to the tune of USD $258 million globally. That made it the third highest opening for a Batman movie. Entering its fourth week in release, the Warner Bros. title has climbed to USD $609 million worldwide.
The question many are asking is will “The Batman” get invited to the billion dollar club. On its face, the audience reaction and attendance of the DC film points to a trajectory in that direction. However, COVID issues in China shuttered theatres and dampened the movie’s momentum. Now there are industry murmurings that the shorter, 45-day window that Warner Bros. is giving cinemas before distributing the film via their HBO Max streaming service (on 19 April) will stymie any billion dollar dreams “The Batman” may have had.
The cinema industry is headed to Las Vegas for CinemaCon at the end of April so perhaps we can place bets on whether “The Batman” will have received its Billion Dollar Club card by then.
Conferences & Trade Shows
With one month to go before the year’s biggest cinema trade show, CinemaCon has begun announcing some of the 2022 honorees.
Martin Moszkowicz of Constantin Film, will receive the Career Achievement in Film Award. As Chairman of the Executive Board at Constantin Film, Moszkowicz is responsible for the company’s film business, including worldwide production and distribution, world sales, feature film acquisition, marketing and publicity as well as corporate communication and legal affairs.
Renana Teperberg, Chief Commercial Officer at the Cineworld Group will receive this year’s Global Achievement in Exhibition Award. Teperberg joined Cineworld in 1997 as a cashier in a cinema in Jerusalem. Today Teperbeg is responsible for the overall commercial strategy and development including new product and business development ensuring the integration of Cineworld’s overall strategy to enhance its long-term success.
Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis