How the coronavirus outbreak is roiling the film and entertainment industries
The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, which was first identified in China in December, has had sweeping effects in the public health, business, and travel sectors, among others. And while the repercussions for the entertainment industry may seem to pale in comparison to the clear threat the virus poses to human life, the ripple effects do have implications for the people around the world who make a living producing and distributing movies, music, and more.
The immense and lucrative Chinese film industry was hit almost immediately as movie theaters across the country were closed and major releases were delayed. Hollywood soon began to feel the effects, too, and as time passes, the impacts of the coronavirus on the global film and entertainment industries continue to be vast.
Consequences of the pandemic on these industries could range from lowered attendance at film festivals and disruptions in film distribution to delayed or canceled movie releases and concert dates to curtailed on-location film shoots. Financial ramifications will likely be felt by studios, filmmakers, theater owners, and more for months or even years.
Here are the biggest and most significant developments in the entertainment industry in response to the pandemic. Most recently, Disney announced more delays to several of its biggest films slated for 2020, including West Side Story and Black Widow.
Major entertainment festival cancellations and postponements
K-pop concerts canceled, including BTS shows: On February 28, the hugely popular K-pop group BTS canceled a series of concerts in Seoul. The shows were scheduled for April 11 and 12 and April 18 and 19 at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. The group’s management agency said the decision was made due to the impossibility of predicting the scale of the outbreak in South Korea come April and cited the health and safety of the musicians themselves, workers, and concertgoers. Two hundred thousand fans were expected to attend.
Days earlier, BTS had asked fans to avoid a series of TV appearances scheduled to promote their newest album, Map of the Soul: 7, which had originally been planned to include studio audiences. The group also appealed to fans via a streamed press conference. “Health is always on our minds these days, and our messages of facing your inner self and loving yourself are ultimately only possible when you’re healthy, especially since it is very risky outside these days,” one of the singers, Jimin, said. ”I hope you take care of yourself.”
The entire Korean entertainment sector has been affected by the outbreak, and K-pop has been hit particularly hard, with groups including GOT7, Winner, Sechs Kies, (G) I-DLE, and others canceling scheduled tour dates. Variety reported that box office revenue in South Korea was down 30 to 40 percent in January 2020 compared to previous years.
SXSW canceled: On March 6, the city of Austin, Texas, declared a state of disaster, requiring the cancellation of public gatherings and events for the near future. The most notable of those is the cancellation of South by Southwest, the annual music, film, TV, and technology festival that serves as a significant financial powerhouse for the city.
The announcement came after a week full of major companies — including Netflix, Apple, Amazon, WarnerMedia, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Mashable, Intel, and more — dropping out of the well-attended event, canceling panels, premieres, and other appearances. Days later, SXSW organizers announced that they had laid off one-third of the festival’s employees in what they called “a necessary, but heartbreaking, step.”
Emerald City Comic Con delayed: The organizing body behind Emerald City Comic Con, the largest convention of its kind in Seattle, Washington, announced on March 6 that it will postpone the event until sometime this summer. The event was scheduled to run from March 12 to 16.
“We did everything that we could to run the event as planned, but ultimately, we are following the guidance of the local public health officials indicating that conventions should now be postponed,” convention organizers Reedpop said in a statement published on the Emerald City Comic Con website.
Cannes Film Festival delayed: Initially, the 2020 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film festival in the world, was left in limbo following an announcement from the festival’s organizers on March 19 that the gathering could be delayed until “late June or early July,” or another time. (The festival had been slated to take place May 12 to 23 and draws thousands of industries and press from around the globe each year.) The festival first issued a statement on February 28 after the first case of coronavirus in nearby Nice, France, was confirmed by the city’s mayor, saying that organizers were monitoring the situation but planned for the festival to go forward. (Cannes is a seaside resort town located on the French Riviera, about 30 km from Nice.)
By late spring, the organizers announced that the 2020 edition would be canceled. All films that would have played in the official and sidebar programs at the festival will bear the official Cannes seal when released in theaters or potentially at partner festivals in the fall, such as those that take place in Venice and Toronto. They announced these selections on June 3.
Coachella delayed, then canceled: Goldenvoice, the organizers of Coachella — one of the largest annual music festivals in the US — announced on March 10 that the festival would be postponed due to concerns about Covid-19. Another Goldenvoice festival, the country-music-oriented Stagecoach, was also delayed.
The Indio, California-based event was originally set to run for two weekends (April 10-12 and April 17-19), with the same talent lineup performing both weekends. The postponement moved Coachella to October 9-11 and October 16-18; Stagecoach 2020 was pushed back from April to October 23-25.
But on June 10, both events were canceled by an order from the public health officer of Riverside County, California.
Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) canceled: The 2020 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) — the single biggest trade show in the video game industry — has been canceled. The Entertainment Software Association, which organizes the event, announced that it would not go forward with the annual event due to coronavirus fears in California, where E3 takes place. The event was scheduled for June 9 to 11.
The organization said it will contact exhibitors and attendees about receiving full refunds for passes, and that it is considering ways to “coordinate an online experience” in lieu of the in-person event. It also maintains that E3 will return next year as planned.
The NBA suspended basketball games: A player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus on March 11, leading NBA officials to call off that night’s Jazz game just before tip-off. As a further precautionary measure, the league issued a statement that it would suspend the basketball season “until further notice.”
Prior to putting an early pause on the rest of the season, the NBA made other efforts to protect players and fans. The league barred media from locker rooms and publicly considered having teams play to empty arenas before ultimately stopping play altogether.
Games resumed on July 30.
2020 Tokyo Olympics delayed: On March 24, following pressure from athletes and multiple nations’ Olympic committees, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe announced that the 2020 Summer Olympics would be postponed, possibly until 2021; on March 30, the dates were set for July 23-August 8, 2021.
San Diego Comic-Con 2020 canceled: On April 17, the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con announced that the yearly fan convention will not go on as planned in 2020. The event will resume once again in July 2021 at the San Diego Convention Center. The cancellation marks the first time in Comic-Con’s 50-year history that the event, the largest convention of its kind in the US, will not take place.
Major film release dates postponed or canceled
Warner Bros. changes release plans: On April 20, Warner Bros. announced changes to its slate. The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, shifted from a release date of June 25, 2021, to October 1, 2021. The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel to The Sopranos, was delayed from September 25, 2020, to March 12, 2021. King Richard, a biopic about Venus and Serena Williams’ father starring Will Smith, shifted from November 25, 2020, to November 19, 2021. An untitled Elvis movie moved from October 1, 2021 to November 5, 2021.
Two DC titles also shifted dates: Shazam! 2 is delayed from April 1, 2022 to November 4, 2022, and The Flash moved from July 1, 2022, to June 3, 2022.
On April 21, the studio announced that the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, originally set for June 26, 2020, would move to June 18, 2021, because of pandemic-related post-production delays. Malignant, a thriller from Aquaman director James Wan that had originally been scheduled for August 14 was pulled from the release schedule.
On June 12, the studio announced that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, previously slated for release on July 17, would move to July 31. Wonder Woman 1984, which was set for August 14, moved to October 2. (Wonder Woman 1984 previously shifted from June to August.)
On July 20, with case numbers rising around the US and most theaters remaining closed, Warner Bros. announced that Tenet’s release would be delayed indefinitely. A week later, the studio announced that the film would be released on a staggered schedule: on August 26 in 70 international territories and then in select US theaters beginning September 3.
On September 11, the studio announced that it had delayed Wonder Woman 1984 again, reportedly until Christmas.
Newest Pixar film delayed: On April 13, Disney announced that Pixar’s latest release, Soul, would open on November 20, 2020. The film was previously set to open on June 19.
Disney makes sweeping changes to release calendar: On April 3, Disney made huge changes to its release calendar, setting dates for movies it had previously pulled without a date and moving others. Mulan was set to open on July 24, 2020, while Jungle Cruise, which had been set to release that day, moved to July 30, 2021. An untitled Indiana Jones film moved from July 9, 2021, to July 29, 2022.
Changes in the MCU calendar also set off a domino effect. Black Widow was newly set for November 6, 2020, while the previous release on that date, Shang-Chi, shifted to May 7, 2021. Originally, Doctor Strange 2 was set to release on that date; it’s now set to open November 5, 2021, displacing Thor: Love and Thunder until February 28, 2022. Black Panther 2 is still currently set for May 6, 2022, and Captain Marvel 2 moved from July 22 to July 8, 2022.
Disney also owns 20th Century Films and Searchlight Films, which had a number of changes. The Ryan Reynolds film Free Guy moved from July 3 to December 11, 2020. West Side Story is still set for December 18 and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel for Christmas Day.
On July 23, however, Disney announced a series of sweeping scheduling changes once again. Mulan was pulled off the release calendar, indefinitely delaying its debut. Disney also took Wes Anderson’s newest film, The French Dispatch, off the calendar indefinitely, after it had initially moved from July 24 to October 16, 2020. Disney moved its upcoming trio of Star Wars movies forward by one year; they’re now slated to release in 2023, 2025, and 2027. And James Cameron’s Avatar sequels were moved back by a year as well, with the first set to premiere in December 2022.
The August 28 date for Disney’s The New Mutants remains August 28, for now; it was originally slated for April 3. And a release date for The Woman in the Window (originally slated for May 15) has not been set yet.
On August 4, Disney announced that Mulan would be released on its Disney+ streaming service. Subscribers will pay an additional $29.99 to rent the movie, available September 4. In territories where Disney+ is not available, Mulan will open in theaters that same day. (Notably, Disney+ is not available in China.)
On September 23, Disney announced more sweeping changes to its release schedule. Black Widow, originally set for November 6, is now slated to open on May 7, 2021. That delay shifted release dates for several other movies in the MCU, including Eternals (from February 12, 2021, to November 5, 2021) and Shang-Chi (from May 7, 2021, to July 9, 2021).
West Side Story, which had been set to release in the prime awards-season slot of December 18, 2020, will now open a full year later on December 10, 2021. The King’s Man — which had initially been set to open in September 2020, then delayed into 2021 — now has a release date of February 16, 2021. And Deep Water, starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, moved from November 13, 2020, to August 13, 2021.
A number of Disney’s films — among them Soul, the latest from Pixar — are still set for 2020 release. Soul has retained its November 20 date, at least for now. Death on the Nile shifted from October 23 to December 18. And the horror film The Empty Man is now set to open on October 23 rather than December 4.
Sony delays nearly all its movies until 2021: On March 30, Sony announced that nearly all of its summer tentpole films would be delayed until late 2020 or early 2021. Delayed movies include Kevin Hart’s Fatherhood, Jared Leto’s Morbius, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Uncharted, and the previously delayed Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. The only film that appeared unaffected was the Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel, which is still set for theatrical release on July 16, 2020.
NBCUniversal to release major films digitally: In an unprecedented move, NBCUniversal announced on March 16 that it would make some movies available digitally the same day they are released in movie theaters that remain open, including Trolls World Tour, which is set to hit theaters on April 10. Movies currently in theatrical release will also be available on-demand, including The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma. Movies are available for a 48-hour rental period for $19.99 in the US and an equivalent price abroad.
No Time to Die: On February 16, MGM announced that it would cancel the Chinese premiere and publicity tour planned for the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, which was scheduled for April. On March 4, the studio announced that it had delayed the film’s release until November 25, making the film the first major tentpole release to be delayed worldwide. The film’s release date moved again on June 12, from November 25 to November 20.
Paramount changes release dates: On March 12, John Krasinski, director of Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II, announced via Twitter that the movie’s March 19 release date would be delayed. “One of the things I’m most proud of is that people have said our movie is one you have to see all together. Well due to the ever-changing circumstances of what’s going on in the world around us, now is clearly not the right time to do that,” he wrote. “As insanely excited as we are for all of you to see this movie … I’m gonna wait to release the film till we CAN see it all together! So here’s to our group movie date! See you soon!”
On July 23, Paramount announced that the Quiet Place sequel would be pushed to April 23, 2021. Top Gun Maverick was also delayed from December 23, 2020 to July 2, 2021. And that bumped Jackass, previously scheduled for July 2, 2021, to September 3, 2021.
Fast and Furious 9: On March 12, Universal Pictures announced that it would delay the release date of the ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise by 11 months, from May 22 to April 2, 2021.
Chinese movies scrapped theatrical release and premiere online: The biggest films of China’s year are usually scheduled to release during the Lunar New Year holiday, near the end of January, but mounting fears of the coronavirus and public reticence to be in crowded spaces caused distributors to voluntarily cancel or postpone several film releases. Huanxi, distributor of the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Russia, announced on January 22 that the film would premiere online for free. Promotional materials encouraged audiences to “stay safely at home and watch Lost in Russia with your mom.” On January 31, Enter the Fat Dragon became the second major Chinese film to premiere online, as theaters are closed by order of the government.
Film and TV productions halted, altered, or shut down
Saturday Night Live aired remotely produced content: On April 9, the producers of Saturday Night Live, which had been on hiatus since mid-March, announced that new, remotely produced material would air on NBC in the show’s usual Saturday night slot, 11:30 pm on April 11, including a “Weekend Update” segment.
The coronavirus has touched Saturday Night Live in at least two ways. The show’s long-time music supervisor, Hal Willner, passed away on April 7 at the age of 64; he was not formally diagnosed with the virus but had consistent symptoms. And Michael Che, one of the show’s co-head writers and co-anchor with Colin Jost of “Weekend Update,” announced via social media on April 6 that his grandmother had passed away from coronavirus complications.
The show joined other late-night comedy shows, such as NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers, CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, in creating comedy content remotely.
Eurovision canceled: On March 18, the organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest announced via Twitter that the 2020 edition of the event was canceled. The event had been planned for May.
TV shows suspend production: Hundreds of shows have delayed or suspended production, including Apple’s The Morning Show and Little America; Netflix shows including Russian Doll; the CW’s Riverdale; NBC shows including the Chicago dramas and The Kelly Clarkson Show; CBS shows including the NCIS dramas, The Amazing Race, and Survivor; and many more.
Late-night shows suspend production or tape without a studio audience: Originally, on March 11, producers of shows including NBC’s The Tonight Show (hosted by Jimmy Fallon) and Late Night With Seth Meyers, CBS’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert, TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and Comedy Central’s Daily Show (hosted by Trevor Noah) all announced they would begin taping without a live studio audience on March 16.
A day later, NBC announced that The Tonight Show and Late Night would suspend production beginning the week of March 16; Stephen Colbert also announced that the Late Show would suspend production. All three shows were already scheduled to go into hiatus on March 23. On March 13, Jimmy Kimmel Live also suspended production. Most shows eventually began producing remotely, often with hosts and guests working from home studios.
Disney suspends live-action production: On March 13, Disney announced that production on its live-action movies would suspend production. Affected films include The Little Mermaid, a Home Alone reboot, and Peter Pan. Earlier in the day, production on Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings had been suspended due to director Destin Daniel Cretton’s decision to self-isolate upon advice of a doctor. (Marvel is owned by Disney.)
Jia Zhangke project delayed: At the Berlin Film Festival in February, famed Chinese director Jia Zhangke (Ash Is Purest White, A Touch of Sin) told Indiewire that production on his new film, which was slated to begin in April, was delayed indefinitely. Jia spoke with Indiewire at the Berlin Film Festival, where his documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue premiered. But he said that before he left, he’d feared his flight to Berlin would be canceled, and that some of his collaborators chose not to make the trip. Regarding his next film, he said:
For some film companies and studios involved in pre-production, a lot of costs are going down the drain, and those that already started production have to be somehow cut short or suspended. Some of them are already in the process of distributing films and they’ve paid for a lot of promotion and PR costs. The economy is now taking a huge hit, and I think the investment side will be hugely impacted as well.
Mission: Impossible production paused: On February 26, Paramount Pictures announced that it had halted a planned three-week shoot in Venice for the seventh installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise. “Out of an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our cast and crew, and efforts of the local Venetian government to halt public gatherings in response to the threat of coronavirus, we are altering the production plan for our three-week shoot in Venice, the scheduled first leg of an extensive production for Mission: Impossible 7,” a Paramount spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter. “During this hiatus we want to be mindful of the concerns of the crew and are allowing them to return home until production starts. We will continue to monitor this situation, and work alongside health and government officials as it evolves.”
Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune tape without a studio audience: Though Sony declined to comment, sources told the Hollywood Reporter on March 9 that scheduled tapings of the shows would go forward without a live studio audience. The measure was taken partly as a precaution for the health of Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, who has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announce they’ve contracted the virus: One of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Tom Hanks, announced that he and his wife Rita Wilson had contracted the coronavirus while shooting Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis Presley film in Australia:
In a message posted publicly on March 11, Hanks was his typical upbeat self:
Well, now. What to do next? The Medical Officials have protocols that must be followed. We Hanks’ will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?
We’ll keep the world posted and updated.
Take care of yourselves!
Entertainment venues and attractions shut down
All Disney parks shut down: On January 25, Disney shut down its Shanghai Disneyland park over fears of the coronavirus. The park is a major revenue generator, with 11.8 million guests in 2018, 50 percent from outside the Shanghai region, and an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue and $50 million in operating profit. A day after Shanghai Disneyland’s closure, Hong Kong Disneyland shut down. Both Disney parks in Japan closed on February 29 and Disney announced on March 11 that they will remain closed through at least the end of April.
Late in the day on March 12, Disneyland in California announced it would close the following day; by that evening, the company announced that all of its parks would close, including those in Florida and Disneyland Paris (where three staff had previously tested positive for coronavirus).
In July, Disney World reopened amid a spike in Florida coronavirus cases.
North American movie theaters shut down: On March 13, a number of theaters and theater chains, including AMC Theatres, and the Canadian chain Cineplex, announced that they would be reducing the number of tickets sold to screenings by as much as 50 percent in order to enable patrons to sit further apart as part of “social distancing” measures.
On March 15, theaters in New York and Los Angeles were shut down by order of their respective mayors. On March 16, Regal announced it would shut down all of its 543 US theaters indefinitely; later in the day, AMC followed suit.
New York City cultural sites closed: On March 12, major cultural sites in New York City began to close, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other institutions canceled programming for the month of March, such as the New York Public Library and Carnegie Hall.
Within days, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it anticipated staying closed through July and laying off much of its staff. On March 19, the Metropolitan Opera laid off all of its union employees, including musicians and chorus.
Broadway shows closed: On March 12, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that beginning at 5:00 pm, Broadway would be closed, part of a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people. On April 8, the Broadway League announced that theaters would remain closed through June, and probably longer. On June 29, the League extended the shutdown through January 3, 2021.
West End closes: On March 16, London’s West End shut down, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech urging Britons to avoid public spaces. The theaters, including the Royal Opera House, will stay closed indefinitely. As of June, the West End closures remained in effect through at least August 2.
Italian cultural sites closed: In February, a number of major museums in Venice, Milan, Turin, and other northern Italian cities were closed as part of the government’s aggressive attempt to contain the virus, and annual Carnivale celebrations stopped early. By early March, with the country under complete lockdown, cultural sites across Italy were closed, including the Colosseum and Pompeii.
Chinese movie theaters shut down for months, tentatively begin to reopen, then re-close: Hoping to contain the coronavirus outbreak, on January 23 the Chinese government temporarily shut down movie theaters throughout the country until further notice. A total film production shutdown soon followed. Loss of revenue over the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, during which movie theaters typically see an uptick in ticket sales, amounted to a staggering $1 billion, according to analysts.
By March 23, about 500 cinemas had reopened in China, roughly 5 percent of the cinemas in the country that were open before the outbreak. Variety reported that box office earnings remained minimal. But by March 27, they were closed again. Some Chinese movie theaters began to open in late July.
We will continue to update this article as the story develops.