Not immune: Mulan and A Quiet Place II are latest films to be pushed back due to coronavirus

With cinemas closing amid the international health emergency, the film industry has taken a hit

This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu in the title role of "Mulan." The Walt Disney Co. officially postponed the theatrical release of “Mulan," amid the coronavirus outbreak. It was was set to come out at the end of the month. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Jasin Boland/Disney via AP)

Mulan, Disney's action drama film based on a Chinese folk tale and starring Chinese actress Liu Yifei, is the latest is a string of blockbusters to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The movie was scheduled to hit international theatres on Friday, March 26 but is being pushed back due to the global health emergency.

Director Niki Caro addressed the developments in a statement on her personal Instagram page.

“We are so excited to share this film with the world, but given the current ever-shifting circumstances we are all experiencing, unfortunately, we have to postpone the worldwide release of Mulna for now," she wrote.

"Our hearts are with everyone the world over who is affected by this virus, and we hope that Mulan’s fighting spirit will continue to inspire those who are working so hard to keep us all safe. Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and support, and I can’t wait for the day where we will all get to experience this tale of a girl warrior who became a legend.”

Meanwhile, Disney has also pushed back the release of New Mutants, which was to be out on April 3 and Antlers, which was set for an April 17 release. No new release dates has been made for the three movies.

The announcement comes a day after the release of A Quiet Place Part II was postponed by Paramount Pictures. John Krasinski, who wrote and directed the thriller, shared a message on social media explaining that why the "ever changing circumstances" led to the delay in the release.

The release was initially set for Friday, March 19, but has been pushed to later in the year.

Earlier developments

The delay of the release of the James Bond film No Time to Die amid the coronavirus outbreak represented the first big-name Hollywood casualty of the global health emergency.

With lives at risk around the world, cinema schedules are a minor concern, but as with every industry, movies are affected. In purely objective economic terms, there are winners and losers of the latest panic, and although stock markets are down and airlines struggling with cancelled routes and plummeting bookings, there's a hand-sanitiser manufacturer registering record profits as its products fly off the shelves.

The film industry and, indeed, the entertainment sector in general, appear to fall firmly on the side of "loser" in the crisis, with cancellations, postponements and a public scared to assemble in large numbers stacked against it. Here, we look at the current and possible future effects of Covid-19 on the movie-going experience.

Films

On Tuesday morning, Sony Pictures became the first company to follow Bond's lead when it announced Peter Rabbit 2 would be pushed back to a Friday, August 7 release. Its predecessor was 2018's biggest family film in Britain and performed well in France and China, two markets that are among those worst hit by the virus.

Cinemas

Theatres are the coalface where the effects on the industry will be felt most acutely, and it's happening already.

In addition to the closures in China, cinemas in markets including Japan, South Korea, Italy and France have also shut up shop. With so many screens out of action, the $50m (Dh110m) loss Bond is believed to have taken on marketing expenditure for its original release date pales into insignificance – industry analysts predicted a 30 per cent loss on a box office of more than $1 billion had it been released as planned.

In markets in which cinemas continue to operate normally, it's hard to draw any firm conclusions. Cineworld, the UK's largest cinema operator, which also has branches in the US and Europe, says it has not noticed a significant drop in admissions since the virus hit the news.

Closer to home, UAE cinema attendances were largely unaffected until the weekend of February 27 to 29. Attendance was down 15 per cent on the same weekend in 2019, but that figure isn't really significant enough to represent a trend, particularly given that the big release that weekend last year, Escape Room, was always likely to draw bigger crowds than this year's The Invisible Man.

With panic spreading, however, and high-profile industry cancellations including Saudi Arabia's Red Sea International Film Festival, the figures for last weekend do raise some potentially worrying signs for cinemas in the Emirates. According to weekend admissions figures seen by The National, only 141,000 admissions were recorded in the country, compared with 289,000 in 2019. Again, this isn't entirely conclusive, as the release last year of Captain Marvel accounted for 169,000 ticket sales alone.

If we look at admissions for individual films, however, studios may want to take note. The weekend's big Pixar release, Onward, took 15,000 UAE admissions, only about half of those for the animation studio's Coco, in 2017, and a third of Inside Out, released in 2015.

The weekend's big Bollywood release struggled, too. Baaghi 3 made it to the top of the UAE box office charts with 45,000 viewers. Two years ago, Baaghi 2 opened to 69,000 sales.

The UAE cinema chains The National contacted declined to comment on the ongoing effects of the coronavirus, and it's too early to take one weekend as a signifier, but it seems certain that studios and distributors will be watching box offices around the world closely moving forward.

Festivals

Film festivals have also taken a hit, perhaps unsurprisingly, given medical advice to avoid large gatherings of people. The biggest local event to drop off the calendar was Saudi Arabia's new Red Sea International Film Festival, which had been due to host big names – including Oliver Stone and Spike Lee – from tomorrow. That cancellation was swiftly followed by that of Beirut International Women's Film Festival, which should have started on Sunday. Haifa Independent Film Festival, which is due to begin on Wednesday, March 25, is currently still scheduled to go ahead, though its organisers have advised The National that they "may" be forced to cancel.

Internationally, all eyes are on Cannes. Currently, the annual May event is scheduled to go ahead, despite the cancellation of other major global festivals including the annual SXSW, in Texas, which had been due to kick off this Friday.

On Monday, the festival's organisers insisted "nothing has changed" and that festival staff continue to plan ahead as normal, as well as revealing the 16 directors who should appear in this year's Cinefondation Atelier section.  

What is certain is that if the world's biggest film market, where new films are bought and sold each year, doesn't take place in May, cinema schedules will be dramatically affected for the rest of the year and well into 2021. Films that had their premieres or picked up distribution at last year's event included the Oscar winners Parasite and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

It's hard to accurately assess how the coronavirus will affect the cinema world in the next couple of months. What does seem predictable is that it will influence cinema schedules for some time to come.