So what’s this got to do with James Bond?
Well, this is no time to release No Time to Die, because China is crucial to its success.
When the first Daniel Craig Bond film, Casino Royale, was released in 2006, the Chinese share of its box office was 1.85 per cent, and it has steadily risen with each new instalment. By the time Craig’s fourth outing, Spectre, was released in 2015, China’s share was close to 9.5 per cent.
Even if the virus hadn’t been bent on taking over the world like a supervillain on heat, Bond’s release strategy would have been shaken, not stirred. Marketing and associated costs for a film like this are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, so the studios want to get maximum bang for that buck by rolling the title out everywhere at once. Craig was even scheduled to visit China as part of the global media blitz, but that plan was quickly shafted once the disease took hold.
There’s a lot at stake here: the new film is predicted to take about $US1 billion globally and at least $US100 million of that is likely to come from China. Yes, they could have released everywhere else and then done China later, but that would mean diffusing the marketing spend – and possibly, as a result, the box office. Instead, MGM now plans to release the film everywhere in late November.
So, it’s the same with Peter Rabbit 2?
Pretty much. Sony has decided to bump the animated sequel from late March to August, in the hope the worst of the health scare will have passed by then. Time will tell if that’s genius or hare-brained. But at least it wasn’t myxomatosis.
Is every big film going to be affected the same way?
Well, yes and no. Sonic the Hedgehog opened in mid-February pretty much everywhere but China and Japan. Disney was holding its nerve on Mulan, its big-budget live-action remake of the animated 1998 movie about a female Chinese warrior on a mission to save her father, for a March 26 opening. But on Friday it bumped it due to the “uncertainty” caused by the virus. A Quiet Place 2 and F9 (the next Fast & Furious film) have also been delayed, the latter until next year.
What does this mean for going to the movies?
Locally, it’s mostly business as usual – for now at least. That said, one Melbourne cinema last week reported that someone who tested positive for COVID-19 had been to a small private screening the night before (other patrons at that screening were notified). More generally, cinema operators – like other entertainment venue managers – claim they are being especially assiduous in disinfecting hard surfaces such as hand rails and door handles.
Still, the virus is spread by “close contact” with an infected person, which government guidelines define as meaning “greater than 15 minutes face-to-face or the sharing of a closed space for more than two hours with a confirmed case”.
So, if I only go to see movies that run 90 minutes or so I should be fine?
Look, we’re not doctors. But given a choice between the 1995 Dustin Hoffman flick Outbreak (two hours and seven minutes) and Matt Damon’s 2011 drama Contagion (one hour 46 minutes), we know which one we’d be choosing.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.