Coronavirus crisis puts damper on Oscar films’ box office in Chinese mainland

By Chen Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/10 20:23:40

Laura Dern(left), winner of the Supporting Actress award for Marriage Story and Renée Zellweger, winner of the Leading Actress award for Judy at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards in California, US on Monday. Photo: VCG

The studios behind Oscar award-winning films Jojo Rabbit and Little Women, scheduled to hit Chinese theaters later this month, denied rumors on Monday that the two films would directly debut on Chinese streaming platforms. The two studios together with that of 1917 noted that the films were still coming to theaters, but did not announce a date. 

The deadly novel coronavirus crisis is hurting the Chinese mainland box office not only for domestic films but also for Oscar award-winning films such as Jojo Rabbit, which won Best Adapted Screenplay at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday, and Little Women, which won Best Costume Design.

The rumor came after Chinese film Lost in Russia, which was originally scheduled to debut in theaters during the Chinese New Year Holiday, went straight to streaming sites for free and film Enter The Fat Dragon aired on China's two leading streaming platforms, Tencent Video and iQiyi during the Spring Festival due to concerns surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus.

"Lost in Russia is just a special example. The streaming platform can earn back the cost of buying the rights and even earn more profit through channels including advertising, free playback and click rate," Shi Wenxue, a film critic as well as a teacher at the Beijing Film Academy, told the Global Times on Monday.

Shi explained that normally movies are released in theaters first and then only allowed to stream on online video platforms after they leave cinemas.

He also said he opposed simultaneous release in theaters and streaming platforms for films because that model doesn't create more opportunities for high-quality movies like these Oscar award-winning films, but will instead bring more risks like the danger of piracy and will directly reduce box-office revenue.

High-profile movies at the Oscars usually are introduced to the Chinese mainland within a very short time such as the films Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody in 2019 with an aim to earn more revenue in China, the world's second-largest film market.

However, the hot films at this year's Oscars will not be able to follow this model as all theaters in the mainland have been shuttered amid the virus crisis. For example, the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood were expected to be introduced, but now face an uncertain fate. Marriage Story which is set to be released on February 28 in the Chinese mainland has not announced any changes to its schedule.

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