Disney and Pixar’s youthful fantasy flick Onward was the top finisher in this weekend’s exciting box office race. It opened wide in the US at 4,310 locations and took in a relatively healthy $40 million from its showings over the three-day Friday through Sunday period. Though Onward did end up at the top of this batch of films, the week as a whole was slow for Hollywood. Coronavirus fears have already all but eliminated the Chinese film market. In Italy, theaters across the country have been closed by government decree, with most of Europe soon to follow suit. Distributors are already beginning to push back their biggest spring releases, potentially shifting the box office season back to Thanksgiving or beyond. No Time to Die, the latest Bond movie, and purportedly Daniel Craig’s last, abandoned its plans to open for Easter weekend and is now eyeing a fall release. There isn’t a single picture of the super blockbuster category, those in the $150 million-plus budget range, that can hope to turn a profit without Asian plays.
Theaters in the US meanwhile are becoming ever emptier as Americans begin to realize that two Oceans aren’t enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Sales are down 5.4% nationwide compared to the same period last year, having already taken such a drastic fall with less than 600 cases reported in all of North America. As the US starts to test more extensively and establish a more comprehensive picture, COVID-19 has already spread throughout the country, going to the movies may soon become a distant memory, a forgone specter of a forgotten time for months, if not more, before the virus runs its course or a cure is found and distributed. Foreign sales for Onward were worth $28 million, taking its total debut gross to $68 million, just about on par with the film’s production budget. Highlight markets for Onward included the UK at $4.4 million. France managed $3.3 million even in the midst of partial theater closures due to its 1,000+ reported cases and 19 deaths at the time of writing this article. Italy and China didn’t even screen the film, and likely won’t be opening their theaters again until mid-May at the earliest.
In third place, Warner Bros. The Way Back started off with just $9.9 million. Ben Affleck stars as an alcoholic former high school basketball star who gets a second chance coaching the team that had almost propelled him to the NBA before he lost his way to alcohol and other addictions. It picked up solid critical and audience reviews, but like nearly every other film slated to come out this year, it never stood a chance of making back its production budget on opening weekend. With theatrical plays out of the picture of the foreseeable future, studios will have to start considering formulas that will let them recoup the many millions already invested in the rest of 2020’s pictures, most likely through direct VOD or partnerships of necessity with existing streaming services.