Regal Cinemas Regal Cinemas

American movie theater operators made the foolhardy choice to stay open this weekend, a decision that could eventually prove to have deadly consequences in this rapidly spreading global pandemic.

For the weekend, the two largest U.S. theater operators, AMC and Regal Cinemas, implemented “social distancing” measures in their theaters by limiting theater capacity to 50%. (Cinemark, the third-largest operator, didn’t implement any social distancing measures.) Not only would such measures be insufficient to prevent the spread of coronavirus, it’s a stunning example of corporations placing financial gain over public safety.

Theater operators weren’t exactly rewarded for their irresponsible behavior. The U.S. box office had its worst weekend in 22 years — since October 30-November 1, 1998, according to Deadline — pulling in just $55.3 million. Disney-Pixar’s Onward topped the chart for a second weekend in a row with an estimated $10.5 million. Obviously, the full box office potential of this film will never be known. No Pixar film has ever dropped 73% in its second weekend like this film. And with its current overall total of $60.2 million, this also looks like it’ll become the first Pixar film to gross less than $100 million.

Neither studio nor filmmaker could have prepared for these circumstances, which are far beyond their control. The only thing Hollywood studios can do at this point is pull all their upcoming film releases, as Disney has done, and wait for the situation to improve.

Overseas, Onward did even worse than the United States, owing to the fact that cinemas are shut down in numerous countries, including some of the largest foreign markets. Theaters are closed entirely in China, France, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Kuwait, Lebanon, Norway, and Saudi Arabia, among others, while many countries have partially closed or severely limited cinema operations.

In this environment, Onward eked out $6.8m from 47 international markets. The film has made just $41.4m abroad, and its current global total of $101.6 million is guaranteed to make this Pixar’s lowest growing film in history, though there will always be an asterisk next to that record owing to the extraordinary circumstances during its time of release.

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