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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the film industry in 2020 and 2021, mirroring its impacts across all arts sectors. Across the world and to varying degrees, cinemas and movie theaters have been closed, festivals have been cancelled or postponed, and film releases have been moved to future dates or delayed indefinitely. Due to cinemas and movie theaters closing, the global box office has dropped by billions of dollars, streaming has seen a significant increase in popularity and the stock of film exhibitors has also dropped dramatically. Many blockbusters originally scheduled to be released since mid-March 2020 have been postponed or canceled around the world, with film productions also halted. This, in turn, created openings for independent cinema productions to receive wider exposure.
The Chinese film industry had lost US$2 billion by March 2020, having closed all its cinemas during the Lunar New Year period that sustains the industry across Asia. North America saw its lowest box office weekend since 1998 between March 13–15.
The highest-grossing film of 2020 was the anime film Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, which earned $503 million worldwide. It was the first time since 2007 that the top-grossing film of a given year had earned less than $1 billion and the first time a non-American film was the top-grossing film of the year. In 2021, the worldwide box office showed signs of recovery, with a 78% increase in revenue over 2020. Despite the still-ongoing pandemic, the December 2021 release Spider-Man: No Way Home quickly became the highest-grossing film of 2021, and the first film since 2019 to earn more than $1 billion worldwide.
In early March 2020, it was predicted that the global box office could lose US$5 billion as a result of the pandemic.
Countries that are pandemic hot-spots have closed or restricted cinemas and movie theaters, negatively affecting film revenue. Attendance has also been lower in other regions. Following the pandemic in mainland China, 70,000 cinemas were closed in January 2020. In the first two months of 2020, China's box office was down to US$3.9 million, compared to US$2.148 billion in the first two months of 2020. Later, as a result of the pandemic in Italy, on March 8, 2020, the Italian government ordered all cinemas to be closed, for up to a month. Before the closure, box office tracking estimated a 94% drop for the weekend of March 6–8 compared to the same period the previous year. Because of the growing pandemic in France, cinemas are operating at half capacity, leaving strategic seats unavailable to reduce proximity in the screens, a move followed days later by the Irish and Northern Irish cinema chain Omniplex Cinemas. On March 12, Qatar also closed all cinemas, as did the US on March 17, Malaysia and Thailand on March 18, the UK on March 20, Australia and New Zealand on March 22, and Singapore on March 27. After a state of emergency was declared in Tokyo and six other prefectures in Japan on April 7, over 220 cinemas were closed.
Percentage box office losses (outside of mainland China) for January to March 3, 2020, are 70–75% in Italy, 60% in South Korea, 35% in Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Singapore, and 30% in Taiwan. The Los Angeles box office, a key movie market and local economic backbone, was projected to fall by 20% in April 2020 compared to its 2019 figures, based on the state of emergency declared in the county at the start of March 2020. Despite the state of emergency, as single screens within movie theatres do not hold more than 1,000 people, they were granted an exemption from the ban on mass public gatherings in California. A National Association of Theatre Owners representative for California and Nevada announced that theatres would stay open; historically, movie theatres have remained open during other similar emergencies. However, a survey of Americans over the opening March weekend showed support for closing movie theaters. On March 15, Deadline reported that over 100 movie theaters in the US had closed, some due to local rulings and others because of an inability to keep them open with no demand; on March 17, with national restrictions to social gatherings, cinemas across the United States closed. However, drive-in theaters, where customers stay in their own cars, were not closed, and quickly grew in popularity again.
The opening March weekend saw a dramatically lower box office than the same weekend in 2019. The 2019 opening March weekend saw the release of Captain Marvel, which alone earned over US$153 million domestically that weekend, compared to the 2020 weekend's biggest film, Onward, with around US$39 million. The next weekend saw the lowest total US box office intake since the October 30–November 1, 1998 weekend, with lower percentage drops than the weekend after 9/11, at US$55.3 million. Onward itself saw the biggest weekend-to-weekend drop of any Pixar film, making $10.5 million, though was still the weekend's biggest film and the only one to make over $10 million. On March 19, Walt Disney Studios and Universal Pictures announced that they would no longer report box office figures. Comscore therefore announced the next day that it would indefinitely suspend its reporting of box office estimates and charts.
On March 26, 2020, after local transmission of the virus had dropped to 0% in China, movie theaters there began to re-open, with reports that 250–500 theaters were opening, but the next day authorities again closed all movie theaters in the country.
Three award ceremonies were held after the coronavirus became widespread: the 10th Magritte Awards on February 1, the 45th César Awards on February 28, and the 43rd Japan Academy Film Prize on March 6. The Japanese Academy Prize ceremony went ahead on March 6. However, the ceremony was conducted without any guests or journalists. The 14th Seiyu Awards cancelled its live ceremony scheduled for March 7 in Tokyo and instead broadcast the winners on Nippon Cultural Broadcasting's internet radio program. The 40th Golden Raspberry Awards were initially intended to take place as planned on March 14. However, it was ultimately cancelled. The ceremony's winners were announced on their YouTube channel on March 16.
The International Indian Film Academy Awards, planned to take place on March 27, was canceled, while the Italian Academy's David di Donatello ceremony has been postponed from April 3 to May 8. The American Film Institute's lifetime achievement ceremony to honor Julie Andrews was pushed back from April to the summer. The 2020 Platino Awards were also postponed.
The Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards modified their eligibility criteria for their 2021 editions, as they usually require that a film be screened theatrically for a minimum length of time. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association mentioned that films released via non-theatrical means (such as digital) would be eligible if they were scheduled to have a "bona fide theatrical release" in Los Angeles after March 15 (with a cutoff date to be determined). The Best Foreign Language Film award would similarly offer eligibility for films originally scheduled for a theatrical release in their country of origin between March 15 and a date to be determined. The 93rd Academy Awards would also allow films released via password-protected or transactional video on demand to be eligible if they were originally scheduled to have a theatrical release. Once cinemas have sufficiently resumed operations, the requirement that a film be screened for at least a week would be reinstated. In addition to Los Angeles, eligible screenings would also be allowed to take place in one of five other major U.S. cities.
On June 15, it was announced that the Academy Awards would be pushed back by two months from February 28 to April 25, so that the cutoff for eligibility could likewise be extended from December 31, 2020, to February 28. The Academy Governors Awards and Scientific and Technical Awards have been postponed indefinitely. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) subsequently announced that it would follow suit and postpone the 74th British Academy Film Awards to April. On June 22, the Golden Globe Awards were also delayed from early-January to February 28, 2021 (filling the Academy Awards' former date). The Screen Actors Guild Awards were also postponed from January 24 to March 14.
With the delay of the 2021 Grammy Awards to March 14 citing the current surge of COVID-19 cases in California, on January 13, 2021, the SAG Awards were delayed once again to April 4. SAG-AFTRA criticized The Recording Academy for not respecting the scheduling of other award presentations.
In Canada, the pandemic shutdown forced the cancellation of both the 8th Canadian Screen Awards and the 22A Quebec Cinema Awards. Both programs ultimately announced their winners through virtual livestreaming, the Canadian Screen Awards presenting film winners on May 28, and the Quebec Cinema Awards presented on June 10. As of August 2020, neither the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television nor Québec Cinéma have announced their plans for the 2021 ceremonies.
The Omicron variant, which has had Los Angeles and New York City as particular U.S. epicenters, led to further disruption of the awards season in January 2022. The 27th Critics' Choice Awards were postponed to March 13, 2022, the same day as the 75th British Academy Film Awards, while the 79th Golden Globe Awards were held under strict COVID-19 protocols with only HFPA beneficiaries in attendance. The ceremony had already been downsized into a non-televised event due to boycotts of the organization by media companies and creatives (including its regular broadcaster NBC) over the lack of diversity among its membership.
Many festivals and events have been cancelled or postponed. Postponements include the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, set to begin on March 5 and rescheduled for June 2020; the Beijing International Film Festival, planned for April 2020 and postponed indefinitely; the Prague International Film Festival, moved from late March to sometime later in 2020; the Bentonville Film Festival, set for April 29 – May 2 and moved to August; the Istanbul International Film Festival, set for April 10–21 and postponed to a later date in 2020; and the Tribeca Film Festival. The Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival, a two-week festival in March, experienced low attendance during its first week and postponed its second week to August 2020. The 20th Beverly Hills Film Festival scheduled for April 1–15 is postponed indefinitely. The 38th Fajr International Film Festival, scheduled for April 16–24 in Tehran, has been postponed, with plans to organize the event in late spring. The 2020 Metro Manila Summer Film Festival, originally scheduled for April 11–21, was also postponed after the decision to place Metro Manila (the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines) under community quarantine was announced, however, it was later cancelled.
Canceled events include the Swiss International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, planned for early March; the Red Sea International Film Festival, which was to be held for the first time in March 2020; the March 2020 South by Southwest (SXSW), which would have included film screenings; the 2020 BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival; Nickelodeon's 2020 Slimefest festival; Qumra, the Doha Film Institute's international directors' conference; Hong Kong Filmart, a large film market event; the National Association of Theatre Owners' CinemaCon 2020; and Lille's Series Mania television festival. The 22nd edition of Ebertfest and the 44th edition of the Cleveland International Film Festival are cancelled. New Jersey's global film festival, Garden State Film Festival, scheduled for March 25–29, cancelled their in-person Asbury Park-based festival, however will be proceeding with the original schedule in a real-time live-streaming online format. The 55th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival was canceled and postponed to 2021; its organizers later announced plans to hold an unofficial "54 ½" edition in November, but it was cancelled due to the reinstatement of restrictions in the country.
The 2020 Cannes Film Festival sent out invitations on March 6, despite France implementing limits on public gatherings beyond its scheduled dates; the Cannes Television Festivals Canneseries and MIPTV chose not to run, however, with Canneseries rescheduling for October and MIPTV canceling its event. On March 19, the Festival de Cannes announced that it cannot be held on the scheduled dates, from May 12–23. Several options are considered in order to preserve its running, the main one being a simple postponement, in Cannes, until the end of June-beginning of July 2020. Cannes' main venue has been converted into a temporary homeless shelter.
Some festivals, including Tribeca, SXSW, ReelAbilities, TCM Classic Film Festival, and the Greenwich International Film Festival have created new online programming in lieu of having an in-person festival. The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival is also planned to proceed at least partially online; on July 30, TIFF programmers announced a much smaller than normal lineup of feature films that will be screened at drive-in theatre venues and online.
Within the industry, it is suggested that after the pandemic is contained and major events reschedule, the less-important business events and festivals may be more permanently removed from industry calendars, to allow more important events to happen, because they may be deemed unnecessary if no great effect is felt by their cancellations, and to ease finances of the industry as it enters a recession brought about by coronavirus-caused losses.
The Tribeca Film Festival and YouTube worked with several international partner film festivals to launch We Are One: A Global Film Festival, an international online festival of films screening for free on YouTube between May 29 and June 7.
Due to the unprecedented interruption of film productions caused by the pandemic, the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland has asked directors including Lucrecia Martel and Lav Diaz to select films from the festival's 74-year history for a retrospective that will be screened online and in physical locations.
The Toronto International Film Festival announced that it would make "masks optional" once attendees were seated for film screenings. The actions were criticized for creating a potential superspreader event as the social nature of the festival could increase the risk for COVID-19 transmission. It reversed the decision within 24 hours citing a surge of new cases in Ontario.
The Tribeca Film Institute, a fundraising and educational non-profit, suspended operations on September 1, 2020, due to "uncertainties surrounding our new reality." The Tribeca Film Festival which operates under the same parent company will continue.
The Provincetown International Film Festival and its associated non-profit laid off its newly hired CEO and eight other staff members in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The San Diego International Film Festival, held in October 2020, screened both online and on drive-in screens.
In September 2021, it was announced that a person with COVID-19 attended several screenings at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Films affected included Dune, Bergman Island and The Humans.
On January 22, 2020, the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Russia canceled its theatrical release and was sent to streaming platforms. It was made available to watch for free, a move said to encourage people to watch it and stay home. The next day, all theaters in China were closed. On January 31, Enter the Fat Dragon also premiered online. Lost in Russia was streamed by 180 million accounts in the first three days after its release; China's highest-grossing film (and the highest-grossing non-English film ever) was 2017's Wolf Warrior 2, which had sold a total of over 160 million tickets worldwide. At the beginning of February, American films set to premiere in China over February and March were officially canceled. Chinese media companies began making more films free online through January. Asian markets also saw Chinese and Hong Kong film distributors cancel exports over the Lunar New Year holiday, including for the films Vanguard, Detective Chinatown 3, The Rescue, and Legend of Deification; Taiwanese film Do You Love Me As I Love You had its Asian release moved to April. Cinemas in Asian countries without public restrictions have been increasing hygiene measures, with the spokesperson for one chain saying that they added more hand sanitizer dispensers, performed temperature checks on staff and moviegoers, cleaned facilities more frequently, and displayed public health warnings on the movie screens. The Lunar New Year holiday is a large market for film releases across Asia, but was stunted in 2020 as the outbreak began rapidly spreading over this period of time.
At the start of March, the James Bond film No Time to Die, which was scheduled to premiere in March 2020 and to wide release in April 2020, was postponed to November and then subsequently to April 2021. No Time to Die was the first film to change its planned release outside of China because of the early outbreak of COVID-19, and has opened discussions of dramatic implications on the film economy: many other productions had avoided scheduling releases at the same time as the 25th Bond film, and its new November date is in the busy holiday release period, leading to low box office intake in March/April and uncertain intake in November. However, the postponement could reportedly generate more publicity for the film, and is also taking the familiar November release slot of the past two Bond films. It has also been suggested that other high-profile films will follow and postpone releases, creating a similar effect. Several other films soon followed in postponing their releases worldwide: the heavily promoted Polish slasher film W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt (Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight) was postponed from March 13 to some point in the future when the situation had settled, and the political documentary Slay the Dragon had its theatrical release moved from March 13 to April 3.
The sequel Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway was initially scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom and the US in late March and early April respectively, but due to uncertainty over the outbreak, the film was postponed to early August before being postponed once again to December 11, 2020, and January 15, 2021, respectively. Sony Pictures, the film's production company, said that the changes internationally were because of coronavirus fears, with the US release moved in sync over worries of pirate copies and because the rival children's film DreamWorks/Universal's Trolls World Tour had moved its release date earlier, to the same weekend on which Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway was initially planned to be released. Trolls World Tour's forward rescheduling takes it to what would have been No Time to Die's weekend (both are distributed by Universal), and leaves it as the biggest film in April.
Other major films have postponed releases in certain countries. The Pixar film Onward, released on the opening March weekend, was not opened in the areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak; while cinemas were closed in China, it also chose not to open in South Korea, Italy or Japan. Other March 2020 releases A Quiet Place Part II and Mulan postponed their releases in affected areas, too. This prompted worry that, should March film openings underperform, blockbusters set for release in May (specifically Disney/Marvel's Black Widow and Universal's F9) would move their dates later in the calendar. Mulan not opening in China, where it aimed to make most of its money, was particularly concerning, especially with the possibility that pirate copies will appear and prevent Chinese moviegoers from going to see it in cinemas when it is released. Comparatively, A Quiet Place Part II had not anticipated a large Chinese draw, as the box office for the first film in the country was only 10% of its total.
On March 12, 2020, it was announced that the global release of A Quiet Place Part II would be delayed, based on widespread advice and policies against large gatherings and it was first rescheduled to September 4, 2020, in time for the Labor Day weekend, then to its new date of April 23, 2021 due to the continuous virus surging in the United States. On the same day, the release of Indian film Sooryavanshi, which was initially scheduled to release on March 24, was postponed indefinitely, and the release of F9 was pushed to April 2, 2021. Mulan's March 12 London premiere went ahead without a red carpet, and on March 13, it was announced that the film was removed from the release calendar, but had been rescheduled for July 24, 2020, taking the release date of another Disney film Jungle Cruise and was further delayed by four weeks to August 21, 2020. With no further rescheduling options, Mulan was removed from the release calendar again.
Disney also postponed the releases of Antlers and The New Mutants, but not Black Widow. This is speculated to be because the other films are standalone, while moving Black Widow – the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four – would affect the development and distribution of the future Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Disney+ works, with Disney holding off on an early postponement announcement until March 17, when they postponed Black Widow and their other May releases, The Personal History of David Copperfield and The Woman in the Window. Though it had earlier been speculated that Black Widow would be able to take Marvel's November release date planned for Eternals, it was not initially given a new date. On April 3, 2020, Black Widow was rescheduled to November 6, 2020, taking the release date of the aforementioned Eternals. Three months later, on July 25, 2020, Disney announced that Antlers would get its new release date of February 19, 2021, nearly a year later after its original release. In August 2020, Disney announced that it cancelled the theatrical release of Mulan (live-action remake) in North America and would premiere the film on Disney+ with Premier Access instead. It went on to have a theatrical release in select countries, including China. On September 23, Disney postponed Black Widow to May 7, 2021, Death on the Nile to December 18, 2020, and West Side Story to December 10, 2021. As a result, Eternals was also delayed to November 5, 2021, in order to maintain the MCU continuity.
Warner Bros. followed Disney by announcing the postponement of the rest of their upcoming slate on March 24. Tenet was pushed from July 17, 2020, to July 31, 2020, then August 12, 2020 before it was held up indefinitely. Wonder Woman 1984 was pushed to August 14, 2020, then to October 2, 2020, and then again to December 25, 2020, with Scoob!, In the Heights, and Malignant being delayed indefinitely. This resulted in Scoob! not having a theatrical release in North America and that film went straight to video on demand, while In the Heights moved to its new release date of June 18, 2021. Prior to this, on March 19, Universal and Illumination announced that Minions: The Rise of Gru had been pulled from its intended release date of July 3, 2020, not only due to the pandemic but also due to the temporary closing of its French Illumination Mac Guff animation studio in response to the pandemic, which would leave the film's animation to be unfinished on its original date. On April 1, 2020, the film was rescheduled for July 2, 2021 taking the planned release date of Sing 2, a year after its original date.
The August 26 release of Tenet marked the first major American blockbuster film to be released theatrically. Due to safety concerns in the United States, the film premiered in 70 international markets through a staggered release model, before being released in select U.S. cities on September 3. Its box office revenue had reached $150 million by September 6, 2020, with a modest $20 million in the United States.
In September 2020, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra stated that the company will not release any big budget films to theatres until the pandemic is over. On October 2, No Time to Die was delayed once more to April 2, 2021, due to a requirement for the film to have "a worldwide theatrical audience". This came amid continued closures of cinemas in the key U.S. markets of Los Angeles and New York City, as well the reinstatement of restrictions in the United Kingdom due to a second wave. As Universal Pictures held the international distribution rights to No Time to Die, its film F9 was delayed to May 28, 2021 (Memorial Day weekend) as to not cannibalize it. No Time to Die has since been postponed again to September 30 in the UK and October 8 in the U.S. In March 2021, F9 was postponed once again to June 25.
The lack of theatrical releases from Hollywood studios resulted in an anime film—Demon Slayer: Mugen Train—becoming the first-ever non-Hollywood film to top the annual worldwide box office. The film benefited from Japan's relative control of the pandemic at the time of its release, the popularity of the franchise, and reduced competition from international films.
With both Los Angeles and New York City having allowed cinemas to reopen by March 2021, it was expected that film distributors would be more confident in releasing higher-profile films. During that month, Disney announced that Black Widow would open in theaters on July 9, 2021 and would also be available on Disney+ the same day with Premier Access, following the same release strategy that was used for one of the company's other films, Raya and the Last Dragon. Two more of Disney's films, Cruella and Jungle Cruise, were also given this hybrid release.
Despite the United States' progress on vaccination, spread of Delta variant intensified across the country in July 2021. As children younger than 12 could not be vaccinated for COVID-19, a number of studios announced plans to delay films targeting families or pursue hybrid premium video on-demand (PVOD)/streaming releases; on July 31, Paramount Pictures cancelled the release of Clifford the Big Red Dog initially scheduled for September, and later rescheduled it for a simultaneous release in theaters and on Paramount+ for November of that year, while United Artists Releasing's The Addams Family 2 was also shifted to a hybrid release. On August 12, Sony Pictures also delayed the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage by three weeks to October 15, citing Delta variant. On September 1, 2021, Paramount announced that the releases of Jackass Forever, Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: Impossible 7 would be delayed to February 2022, May 2022, and September 2022, respectively, amid surging cases of Delta variant. On September 6, 2021, however, Sony decided to move up the release date of Venom: Let There be Carnage to October 1, 2021, following the box office success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also led to The Walt Disney Company deciding to release the rest of their 2021 films exclusively in theaters. Spider-Man: No Way Home, a Marvel Cinematic Universe film distributed by Sony Pictures, was released on December 17, 2021, and grossed over $601 million in its opening weekend. It also became the first film since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) to exceed a gross of $1 billion in the global box office. By early-January 2022, it had grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide, overtaking The Avengers as the eighth-highest-grossing film of all time.
The popularity of the film, as well as other pandemic-related factors, were cited in the box office failure of another prominent holiday release, Steven Spielberg's West Side Story; despite positive reviews, analysts argued that the film skewed towards an older audience (mainly adult women) that was still hesitant to see films in theatres due to COVID-19 risks (especially with the recent emergence of Omicron variant), may have lacked a prominent star, and further argued that there had been a trend of live action musical films falling out of favor among audiences (citing examples such as 2019's Cats, and 2021 releases In the Heights and Dear Even Hansen).
The 2019 sequel Frozen II was originally planned to be released on Disney+ on June 26, 2020, before it was moved up to March 15. Disney CEO Bob Chapek explained that this was because of the film's "powerful themes of perseverance and the importance of family, messages that are incredibly relevant". On March 16, 2020, Universal announced that The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma – all films in theaters at the time – would be available through premium video on demand as early as March 20 at a suggested price of US$19.99 each. After suffering poor box office since its release at the start of March, Onward was made available to purchase digitally on March 21, and was added to Disney+ on April 3. Paramount announced on March 20, Sonic the Hedgehog is also planning to have an early release to video on demand, on March 31. On March 16, Warner Bros. announced that Birds of Prey would be released early to video on demand on March 24. Three days later, the studio then announced that The Way Back would also be available on video on demand the same date as Birds of Prey. On April 3, Disney announced that Artemis Fowl, a film adaptation of the 2001 novel of the same name, would be released straight to Disney+ on June 12, skipping a theatrical release entirely.
Chinese regulators, as well as the U.S. National Association of Theatre Owners, have highly discouraged film distributors from engaging in this practice, in defense of the cinema industry.
Trolls World Tour (sequel to the 2016 film) was released directly to video-on-demand rental upon its release on April 10, with limited theatrical screenings in the U.S. via drive-in cinemas. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told The Wall Street Journal on April 28 that the film had reached $100 million in revenue, and stated that the company had not ruled out performing releases "in both formats" as cinemas reopen.
On April 28, in response to Shell's comments, American chain AMC Theatres announced that it would cease the screening of Universal Pictures films effective immediately, and threatened similar actions against any other exhibitor who "unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us". On July 28, the two companies announced an agreement allowing Universal the option to release a film to premium video on demand after a minimum of 17 days in its theaters, with AMC receiving a cut of revenue. Universal later reached similar pacts with Cinemark Theatres and Cineplex Entertainment.
In a strategy called virtual cinema, some film distributors have created new partnerships with small movie theaters and art houses to provide a portion of online streaming sales, including Kino Lorber, Film Movement, Music Box Films, Hope Runs High, and Oscilloscope Labs.
Warner Bros. Pictures announced in December 2020 that it would simultaneously release its slate of 2021 films both as theatrical releases and available for streaming on HBO Max for a period of one month. This approach, called "Project Popcorn", led to many filmmakers, production companies and theater chains to voice their disappointment and displeasure over the move, especially since they were not informed and consulted with over the move, as well as in regards to contractual and legal obligations.
In March 2021, it was announced that Warner Bros. would discontinue same-day releases in 2022, as part of an agreement the studio reached with Cineworld (which operates Regal Cinemas), and would instead use a 45-day exclusive release window for theaters. The studio made a similar deal with AMC Theaters in August 2021.
Pixar's Luca went directly to Disney+ on June 18, 2021, along with a simultaneous limited run at the El Capitan Theatre. During the summer of that year, Paramount Pictures announced that it would release PAW Patrol: The Movie on Paramount+ on the same day as its theatrical release. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures released Encanto on Disney+ 30 days after an exclusive theatrical run. On January 7, 2022, it was announced that the Pixar film Turning Red would be skipping theaters entirely and would instead be released to Disney+ on March 11, amid the surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant.
Film productions in the key outbreak zones (predominantly China, South Korea, and Italy) have changed their schedules, changed location, or have shut down completely. Sony Pictures closed its offices in London, Paris, and Poland after an employee was thought to have been exposed to the virus. The Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA have canceled all in-person meetings. The Hengdian World Studios in Dongyang, China, has closed indefinitely. The Phillipine movie studios Star Cinema, Regal Entertainment, and Cinema One Originals also suspended shooting of their films, effective March 15, the same day as a quarantine in Metro Manila and Cainta, Rizal was enacted.
Several Chinese and Hong Kong films have stopped production, including Blossoms, the upcoming film directed by Wong Kar-wai, which was scheduled to shoot in Shanghai; Jia Zhangke's next film, which was planning to begin filming in China in April, but has been put on hold until at least next spring, with Zhangke saying he might even rewrite the script; and Polar Rescue, a Donnie Yen film, which shut down production until the end of the year.
One of the first big production shutdowns was that of Mission: Impossible 7, which was scheduled to begin filming in Venice, Italy when the crew was sent home and the sets left behind. After actor Tom Hanks became infected with the coronavirus, the Elvis Presley biopic he was working on in Queensland, Australia was shut down, with everyone on the production put into quarantine. Production company Warner Bros. began working with the Australian public health services to identify other people who may have been in contact with Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who had been performing at venues including the Sydney Opera House shortly before both were tested positive. The Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was also shooting in Australia, had its first unit production temporarily suspended on March 12, 2020, due to director Destin Daniel Cretton self-isolating while awaiting results for a coronavirus test, which came back negative.
The Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) released a set of guidelines and work place practices in early-May 2020 as restrictions began to lift across the U.S. This set included specific guidelines for all departments and worksites involved in productions. An industry task force of studios and unions submitted a report on June 1, 2020, with various recommendations on health and safety guidelines for cast and crew of productions. These guidelines include regular testing, wearing face coverings at all times when not filming, actors practicing social distancing "whenever possible", reducing or modifying scenes involving "close contact", and recommending that casting be performed via videoconferencing or self-recorded video rather than in-person.
On June 5, 2020, Governor of California Gavin Newsom announced that film and television production could resume in the state beginning June 12, provided that conditions permit and approval is received from a county's public health officials. Newsom incorporated key guidelines from the task force's report. The next day, a group of unions (including the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and SAG-AFTRA) published a 36-page report detailing safety protocols agreed upon for union film and television productions, including regular testing of cast and crew members, closed sets, access zones, shooting limited to 10-hour sessions, and all productions requiring an on-set health safety supervisor.
On February 9, 2021, it was announced that Blue Sky Studios, an computer animation studio which had been acquired by Disney during its purchase of 21st Century Fox, would be closed due to the economic impact of the pandemic on their business operations. The closure of Blue Sky also resulted in its cancellation of a film adaptation of Nimona, which was reported to be 75% complete.
The stock of exhibitors, companies that own and finance showing films in cinemas and theaters, continued falling even as the global stock market rebounded. Mid-week on March 4, 2020, Cinemark fell by 0.53% and AMC by 3.5%. That day, No Time to Die had its release postponed; by March 6, AMC's shares had fallen by 30% over two weeks. Between March 4 and 6, Cineworld's shares fell 20%, and fell another 24% on March 12. The falls result from a combination of AMC closing selected cinemas in Italy and the lack of confidence in the market created by No Time to Die moving its release date; other new releases on its original opening weekend will not be as much of a draw for moviegoers and could result in financial losses for the chains showing them. The in-theater advertising company National CineMedia also reported stock falling, by 1.25% on March 4.
By March 12, Cinemark, AMC and National CineMedia stocks had all fallen by over 35% since the beginning of the month. Cineworld, the world's second-largest cinema chain, warned on March 12, when multiple films pushed back their releases, that extended disruption and continuing falling stock could cause the company to collapse.
In August 2020, California announced a new color-coded tier system that would allow restrictions to be lifted in specific counties based on health metrics, effective August 31. Cinemas would be allowed to operate at limited capacity if a county is in the red (""Substantial") tier or better. This would scale from at 25%/100 patrons (whichever is smaller) in red counties, to 50%/200 patrons in orange ("Moderate") counties, and 50% with no hard maximum in counties under the lowest yellow ("Minimal") tier. The majority of the state was still in the purple ("Widespread") tier at the onset of the system, where cinemas remained closed. These health orders can still be superseded with stricter rules by local officials.
On October 3, after No Time to Die was delayed until April 2021, it was reported that Cineworld was considering suspending the operations of all of its cinemas in the UK and Ireland, and most US Regal Cinemas indefinitely, citing the lack of tentpole releases as impacting its business. The company confirmed the move on October 5, with CEO Mooky Greidinger stating that it was too expensive to continue operating its cinemas without a consistent lineup of new releases (having initially planned to hold out until No Time to Die was released), and argued that the continued closure of cinemas in the state of New York has made studios reluctant to release films due to the underperformance of Tenet. The closures excluded seven Regal locations in California that had recently been allowed to reopen.
Although San Francisco County began to allow cinemas to reopen on October 7, the majority of cinemas remain closed due to a boycott by the National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada, due to local guidelines prohibiting the sale of concessions. The group stated that this restriction "makes it economically impossible for our members to reopen and significantly limits the moviegoing experience for our audiences." Cinemark announced later that month that it would reopen selected cinemas in the Bay Area and Santa Clara County, operating in compliance with the concessions prohibition. On October 17, New York announced that it will allow cinemas outside New York City and situated in counties with a 14-day average of cases below 2% to reopen on October 23, at a maximum capacity of 50 patrons per-screen.
On November 9, 2020, Regal announced that the selected California and New York locations it had recently reopened would close indefinitely November 12. The same day, the share prices of AMC, Cinemark, and Disney rose on early reports by Pfizer on the efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine in development by the company and BioNTech.
On March 5, 2021, cinemas in New York City were given authorization to reopen, subject to the same 50-patron limit as the remainder of the state. On March 11, after Los Angeles County moved from purple to red on the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) gave authorization for cinemas to resume operations in the area at 25% capacity. 42 of the approximately 107 cinemas (as of 2019) in the LA area had resumed operations by March 26, with some chains and independent cinemas expecting to reopen over the next few weeks for the opening of Godzilla vs. Kong.
Two weeks later, movie theaters in Los Angeles began reopening with 25% capacity. On March 23, 2021, Regal Cinemas announced that they would reopen their cinemas beginning April 2, 2021. On April 19, it was announced that capacity for New York cinemas would be raised to 33% on April 26. The same day, California issued an addendum that orange-tier counties would be restricted to 50% with no hard cap on patrons, and that counties under the yellow ("Minimal") tier would be allowed to operate cinemas and other selected venues at up to 75% capacity if all attendees present proof of full vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Guidance was also issued for seating sections with less physical distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2020 and March 2021, respectively, Studio Movie Grill and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema respectively emerged from Chapter 11 in late-April 2021 and early-June 2021 with new funding, and some underperforming locations closed along with plans for new theaters being built. On April 21, 2021, The Decurion Corporation, parent company of Arclight Cinemas, the Cinerama Dome, and Pacific Theaters, announced they would be shutting down all of its locations, due to the financial impact of the pandemic. Two months later, Pacific Theaters filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In the following months, the leases to many former Arclight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters locations were acquired by other movie theater chains such as Regal Cinemas, AMC Theaters, and Landmark Theaters.
On May 3, 2021, the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York jointly announced that they planned to lift most capacity restrictions on businesses on May 19; for cinemas in New York, they would not be limited in how many patrons may be present, but there must be 6 feet (1.8 m) social distancing between groups. On May 4, Los Angeles County was moved to yellow ("Minimal") tier by state health officials, but the LACDPH did not allow cinemas to use the 75% option. Due to progress on vaccination, New York and California lifted capacity restrictions, including those on cinemas, in June 2021.
By August 2021, however, due to spread of Delta variant and waning vaccination rates nationwide, New York City (where only 55% of residents were fully-vaccinated) announced on August 3 that effective September 13, access to indoor entertainment venues (including cinemas) will be restricted to those who are vaccinated. In October 2021, Los Angeles announced that starting November 4 residents will be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to enter movie theaters.
The BBC noted that the popularity of streaming services could increase, especially if more people are isolated at home, with The Guardian suggesting that non-blockbuster films may be sent to streaming more quickly than anticipated after release, to catch this market. One popular film to stream was 2011's Contagion, which moved up from being the 270th most-watched Warner Bros. film in December 2019 to become its 2nd most-watched film in 2020 (by March) and entered the top 10 on iTunes film rentals, ostensibly due to the similarities its story bears to the outbreak. The stock of Netflix increased in 2020 by March 12. The platform had released its original docuseries Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak at the end of January 2020. Disney+ went live in India on March 11 via its domestic service Hotstar, eighteen days before it was set to, though Disney's shares had fallen by 23% on March 9.
In various trade publications and media outlets, insurance brokers from Front Row Insurance Brokers Inc. have provided commentary on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cinema, and specifically on film production insurance.
Cineworld and Warner Bros have also hatched a multi-year agreement that will see the No. 2 global exhibitor show the studio's 2021 theatrical and HBO Max day-and-date titles in the U.S. as of their theatrical release. Then, beginning in 2022, Warner Bros theatrical films will have a 45-day window of theatrical exclusivity at Cineworld's Regal chain.