Movie Ticket Sales Fall to Historic Low

LOS ANGELES — Here is all you need to know about the mind-sets of moviegoers as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies: God beat a superhero at the weekend box office.

Seemingly every aspect of American life has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the weekend ritual of watching a movie in the dark with strangers has been no exception. Most cinemas in the United States remain open, with the two biggest chains, AMC and Regal, reducing seating capacity in auditoriums by 50 percent so that people could leave at least one empty seat between them. But fears about the coronavirus kept the masses at home: Domestic ticket sales totaled about $55.3 million, a 44 percent drop from last weekend, despite three new films — “Bloodshot,” “The Hunt” and “I Still Believe” — arriving in wide release.

It was the worst period for movie theaters in two decades, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. The next lowest weekend was Sept. 15 to 17 in 2000, when ticket sales totaled $54.5 million and the primary draws were holdovers like “The Watcher,” a serial-killer movie, and “Nurse Betty,” a dark comedy starring Renée Zellweger. In today’s money, however, the 2000 weekend generated roughly $83 million in ticket sales.

The result: Hollywood may have just had its worst weekend since ticketing data started to be independently compiled kept in the 1980s.

“This weekend’s three new wide releases were not expected to do big business,” David A. Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, a movie consultancy, said in an email on Sunday. “Still, these openings are down 30 percent or more from where they would be under normal circumstances.”

The No. 1 movie was a holdover: “Onward,” the Disney-Pixar fantasy about two elf brothers who have an accident with magic, collected an estimated $10.5 million at 4,310 theaters in the United States and Canada — a 73 percent drop from its first weekend. Pixar movies typically decline between 30 percent and 45 percent from their first to second weekends, demonstrating the impact of coronavirus fears on moviegoing.

Overseas, where theaters have been closed in some countries in Europe and Asia, “Onward” took in $6.8 million. The animated film’s global total now stands at $101.7 million, Disney said.

In a surprise — at least for Hollywood — an under-the-radar new release rooted in religion, “I Still Believe,” sold the most tickets of the newcomers. It collected about $9.5 million from 3,250 theaters. “I Still Believe” (Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company), cost less than $10 million to make. A romantic drama, the film stars KJ Apa (“Riverdale”) and Britt Robertson (“Under the Dome”) and is based on the true story of the Christian singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp and his first wife Melissa Henning-Camp, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer while on their honeymoon.

Directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin, known for the 2018 faith-based hit “I Can Only Imagine,” “I Still Believe” received middling reviews. But ticket buyers gave it an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls.

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