Ticket sales dive at box office; lowest turnout in 20 years

The Associated Press    This image released by Focus Features shows Sidney Flanigan in a scene from "Never Rarely Sometimes Always." 

NEW YORK — Ticket sales plunged to their lowest levels in at least 20 years at North American movie theaters as the coronavirus pandemic led to one of Hollywood’s worst weekends at the box office.

Receipts totaled about $55.3 million in U.S. and Canada theaters, according to studio estimates Sunday. Not since 2000 has weekend box office revenue been so low, according to data firm Comscore, when $54.5 million in tickets were sold on a quiet September weekend. More people went to the movies the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001.

Disney’s latest release from Pixar, “Onward,” remained the top film, earning $10.5 million in its second weekend. The Christian romance “I Still Believe” from Lionsgate brought in $9.5 million. Sony’s comic-book adaptation “Bloodshot,” with Vin Diesel, grossed an estimated $9.3 million in its debut. The Blumhouse horror satire “The Hunt” opened with $5.3 million.

All of those totals were notably below expectations. Most films last week had aimed to do 25% to 50% better. The weekend’s sales overall were down 45% from the weekend before, according to Comscore.

While this weekend’s crop of films weren’t expected to compete with the same timeframe last year, when “Captain Marvel” was in release, revenue was down 60% from the same weekend last year.

Pixar films virtually always hold well for weeks, but “Onward” dropped 73% from its opening weekend. “The Hunt,” which remounted its release after its debut was canceled last fall following a wave of deadly shootings, had hoped to do twice as well.

Most of Europe’s cinemas have shuttered in recent days, as have theaters in China, India, Lebanon and Kuwait. Those closures have already slashed international grosses. Health officials are urging for those who can stay home to do so, to help stymie the spread of the virus.

But the wide majority of North American theaters remained open for business over the weekend. The continent’s two largest chains, AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas, said they wouldn’t fill theaters to more than 50% capacity to facilitate social distancing. Others asked moviegoers to leave empty seats around them. All pledged to clean theaters in between screenings.

Other theaters opted to close completely, including many in New York. Of the roughly 5,800 theaters in the United States, about 100 were closed over the weekend.

“It’s so hard to predict how this will play out,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. “It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving situation that the entire world is trying to wrap their minds around. For the short term, obviously there’s an impact.”

For now, it’s likely more theaters will soon close their doors. Over the weekend, cinemas were shuttered in both New Jersey’s Bergen County and Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County after local governments advised closing all entertainment venues.

Recommended for you